Mario Hezonja in Future Slam Dunk Contest?

By John Denton
Feb. 25, 2017

ORLANDO – Aaron Gordon poured so much thought and preparation into trying to outdo last season’s breathtaking performance in the NBA Slam Dunk Contest that he’s had to deal with a huge letdown in the days since.

Even now, a week after the Slam Dunk Contest in New Orleans, Gordon admitted that he is still ``super bummed out.’’ Gordon captured the imagination of the basketball world in 2016 when he authored a stirring runner-up finish, but he was eliminated in the first round of last week’s contest when he couldn’t get the timing right on a dunk when the ball was being dropped from a drone.

``That was not fun for me and the whole weekend wasn’t fun for me,’’ Gordon admitted. ``It’s a lesson that I have learned from that and I’m still realizing what I went through right there. It was super disappointing. I love to do those kinds of things and dunk the basketball, but for me to come out and not perform as well as I wanted to – and to perform poorly at that – it wasn’t a fun feeling.’’

Gordon lost out on what could have been some valuable practice time in the days leading up to the event because of a bone bruise in his right foot. He’s replayed the ``drone dunk’’ – both in his head and on video – over and over to try and figure out why he had so much trouble converting it.

``The angle that I took and the timing,’’ Gordon said of the causes of trouble. ``There’s a lot that goes on with it. There were things in my life that I wasn’t completely focused during the dunk contest and if you’re not focused in something like that, that’s the result.’’

Gordon twice jumped over Magic mascot, Stuff, in last year’s contest, wowing the judges with the ease in which he pulled off difficult dunks. He knows that he easily could gone the safe route to advance to the finals of the competition before unveiling the ``drone dunk,’’ but that wouldn’t befitting of his personality, he said.

``That’s boring to do something safe and have the judges give you 10s for not 10(-level) dunks. That’s a cop-out,’’ Gordon said. ``I was trying to do better than I did last year, so it was difficult (to stomach).’’

DUNK CONTEST, PART II: With Victor Oladipo (2015) and Gordon (2016 and ‘17), the Magic have had a participant in each of the past three Slam Dunk Contests. Gordon has yet to decide whether he will participate in the contest again, but if he does he potentially could have some competition from a teammate.

No, not Terrence Ross – the 2013 and ’14 winner. Second-year forward Mario Hezonja admitted that he would consider competing in the contest if asked by the NBA.

Hezonja, who turned 22 years old on Saturday, admitted that it would be a dream of his to participate in the Slam Dunk Contest, the 3-Point Shootout and the Skills Competition all on the same All-Star Saturday Night.

``If you ask me, I want to do all three of the competitions – skills, 3-Point shootout and dunk – in the same year, but I’ll have to see how that goes,’’ Hezonja said with a laugh. ``I’m a basketball player and I never practice my dunk and I’ve never put the 13 balls out to practice (like in the 3-Point Shootout). I work out for the games, not the contests.’’

Hezonja, who hails from Croatia and has played professionally since he was 12 years old, said he’s appeared in two event-based Slam Dunk Contests before. In one, Hezonja lost in the finals after pulling off a dunk where he put the ball between his legs, reversed his body in midair and dunked the ball back over his head.

``I never practice that – it’s just naturally what I can do,’’ said the 6-foot-7 Hezonja. ``I think if I had a little bit of time (to practice) maybe I could do something good. But I’ve never concentrated on that kind of stuff. But we’ll see (about competing in a future dunk contest).’’

DUNK, PART III: A few weeks back, the 10-year anniversary of one of the greatest plays in the Magic’s regular-season history came and went. Three of the key people involved in the memorable play – Dwight Howard’s last-second, game-winning alley-oop dunk to defeat the San Antonio Spurs – were at the Amway Center on Saturday.

It was Feb. 9, 2007 and the Magic and Spurs were tied at 104 with eight-tenths of a second remaining. Then-Magic head coach Brian Hill, now a pregame and postgame analyst for Fox Sports Florida, drew up a play where Howard started on the left block, cut across the lane and faked a screen for point guard Jameer Nelson.

As it turns out, that action perfectly distracted the attention of Spurs’ center Tim Duncan, allowing Howard to sneak behind him for a lob dunk that was hoisted toward the basket by Hedo Turkoglu. The dunk sent the Magic on to the win and went down as one of the best plays in Magic history.

Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenzholzer had a perfect look at the play as he was an assistant coach for the Spurs at the time. Budenholzer said that he’s never talked about the play with Howard, who is in his first season playing for the Hawks.

``I do remember it and that was a helluva play,’’ Budenholzer said. ``(Brian Hill) is a great X-and-Os guy. I have lot of memories of Coach Hill’s ATOs (After Timeout plays) and his end-of-game stuff. I wouldn’t have known he was the coach that night, but I definitely remember the lob, the dunk and the loss, in our case.’’

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