SL: 'Nique to push Josh Smith into Dunk Contest; Free Jamison!

Each weekday morning, BDL serves up a handful of NBA-related stories to digest with your donuts.

Chris Tomasson, NBA FanHouse: "Atlanta forward Josh Smith(notes) is pondering coming out of retirement to go after another slam dunk crown. And he still has a high-flying legend planning to work him over. Dominique Wilkins won NBA dunk titles with the Hawks in 1985 and 1990. He'll try to get Smith, the 2005 winner who hasn't competed since 2006, to head to Dallas for next month's event during All-Star Weekend. 'I'm going to talk to him,' Wilkins said in an interview with FanHouse. 'I would love to see him be in it. I think he would make a nice comeback and take the contest again by doing something a little different. ... I hope (the chances are) good (of Smith competing).' So what are the chances Mr. Smith goes to Dallas? 'I don't know,' Smith told FanHouse. 'We'll have to see. Maybe. I'm not sure yet. ... I guess it has to be a feeling that I might have to have.' [...] But there is something, in addition to possible persuasive arguments by Wilkins, that really could whet Smith's appetite to return. He wouldn't mind seeing Cleveland star LeBron James(notes), who vowed last year to dunk but is now wavering, to make his contest debut. 'It might be enticing,' Smith said."

Brian Windhorst, The Plain Dealer: "... the Wizards now owe it [Antawn] Jamison to trade him and give him a chance with another team. They have been grasping on to this group for years hoping for health, luck and the right playoff seed. But for various reasons, much of it plain bad luck and a rising superstar in Cleveland, they haven't gotten there. Now with the Arenas suspension and the Pollin death and the impending doom (DeShawn Stevenson(notes) called it a 'black cloud' over the team), there are no more illusions. The dam has broken, it is over in Washington. There's going to be a new owner and new faces. Obviously, the Cavs want Jamison in the worst way. He fits everything they want and need at the moment. A great shooter with size, a smart player with playoff experience, a strong character in the locker room, a willingness to fit into the team concept. He's not a great defender, he's had some injuries and he's owed $28 million over the next two years. With next summer's free agent haul, there aren't many teams willing to take on that sort of commitment. Especially for a 33-year-old, even if it does look like he's got a lot of gas in his tank. There aren't a lot of trade partners for the Wizards to just dump the salary, if they indeed want to go that route."

Dave D'Alessandro, The Star-Ledger: "The before-and-after snapshot of Brook Lopez(notes) Tuesday night presented a stark contrast, as the Nets center was seen yukking it up wildly with Keyon Dooling(notes) as he took the floor to play Milwaukee when the curtain went up. Then he literally jumped off the bench with six seconds still left in the game and ran to the locker room as the 98-76 beating was concluding. And when the media reached that locker room a half-hour later, Lopez was gone again — electing not to stick around to discuss his performance, for a very good reason: 'I didn't want to say anything I would regret,' the franchise center said in pregame Wednesday night. Asked whether he believes that his opinion might be the most pertinent as they climb out of this train wreck of a season, and whether he might have one of the most important voices in where the organization is going, Lopez replied, 'I know that. I just don't know if it's my place yet.' Which is why he's still dodging what is becoming obvious lately: The Nets are starting to neglect his development for the purpose of getting Yi Jianlian(notes) going."

Ira Winderman, South Florida Sun Sentinel: "Point guard Carlos Arroyo(notes) had his contract guaranteed for the balance of the season Wednesday by the Miami Heat. The decision to retain the team's lone player without a full-season guarantee was announced just before Wednesday's 6 p.m. deadline. 'I never thought about it,' said Arroyo, who was in the starting lineup when the Heat faced the Boston Celtics at AmericanAirlines Arena. 'I felt peace in myself.' Arroyo said he thanked coach Erik Spoelstra and Heat President Pat Riley after the decision was finalized. 'To be able to have an opportunity like this, you have to be grateful,' he said. By retaining Arroyo, the Heat will add about another $500,000 to its dollar-for-dollar luxury tax paid to the league on excessive payroll. From a basketball standpoint, Spoelstra said retaining Arroyo never was an issue. 'It was never a concern on my part or the coaching staff,' he said. 'He's done everything I've asked.'"

John Reid, The Times-Picayune: "New Orleans Hornets backup shooting guard Morris Peterson(notes) could be on the floor for the second consecutive game tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the Ford Center. Peterson played nearly nine minutes in Monday's 91-87 victory against the Utah Jazz, which was his first action since a Nov. 25 game against the Milwaukee Bucks. Though New Orleans Hornets Coach Jeff Bower does not publicly comment about possible trades, the Hornets could be playing Peterson to increase his value to make a possible trade deal before next month's trade deadline. But Bower said Peterson's consistent efforts at practices earned him a spot in his rotation. 'I felt the way Mo has practiced over the last few weeks and that he is healthy, I felt it was time to give him a chance,' Hornets Coach Jeff Bower said before this morning's shootaround at the Ford Center."

Mike Wells, Indianapolis Star: "[T.J.] Ford's contributions now are limited to competing hard in practice and supporting teammates during the game because [Jim] O'Brien has no intention of playing him anytime soon. Ford hasn't played in the past three games, including the 43-point loss at New York on Sunday. 'I've come to grips with it,' Ford said. 'Initially, first hearing the news on game day (Saturday) was definitely tough. It was shocking. It's a business. I've been dealing with a lot of adversity throughout my professional career, so you just use this as an experience.' O'Brien is starting veteran Earl Watson(notes) because he is 'as strong of a leader' as the Pacers have. Rookie A.J. Price(notes) is the backup. Price is effective at running the pick-and-roll. The Pacers also want to determine whether he fits into their plans because Watson and Travis Diener(notes) are free agents at the end of the season."

Frank Dell'Apa, The Boston Globe: "Paul Pierce was clearly tired after a 43-minute performance in the Celtics' 112-106 overtime win over Miami last night. But Pierce was inspired by the play of Rajon Rondo(notes), who scored 8 points after the Celtics fell behind with 0.6 seconds remaining in regulation time. 'We don't panic, we play 48 minutes, and thank God that little Rondo can jump so high,' Pierce said of his lob for Rondo's tying layup. 'He just made a spectacular play.' Pierce did not take a shot in his first 12 minutes since returning to action after undergoing surgery for a knee infection. Then he converted his first field goal attempt since Dec. 22, a transition 3-pointer to cut the Celtics' deficit to 44-43 with 5:23 remaining in the half. 'I didn't show signs of limping or things of that nature, so I was ready to go,' Pierce said. 'I'm a little tired. But I'll get some rest and be ready for the game in Atlanta [tomorrow].'"

D.J. Foster, "There's a sequence late in the fourth quarter of tonight's game where Baron Davis(notes) is leading the break up the middle of the court. He's flanked by Eric Gordon(notes) on his right, who trails behind Baron only slightly. Baron separates from the pack, and then does something that evokes memories of Sam Cassell(notes): Baron yells at Gordon to run harder on the break, and physically points out to Gordon where he wants him to go. Once Gordon obliges, Baron leaves a beautiful dime for the suddenly streaking Gordon for the dagger layup and foul. The Staples crowd roars in approval, and the other Clippers maul Gordon with celebratory backhand slaps. And that's exactly the kind of thing an engaged Baron Davis brings to the table. Right from the tip, it was visibly evident that Baron Davis had that extra 'umph' ready for tonight's game. The way Baron got himself going initially was from transition opportunities. At every turn Baron pushed the ball up the floor, running right up the backs of the Lakers defenders. Whether it was finishing plays himself or finding someone like Rasual Butler(notes), who did an excellent job running the floor, Baron set the attacking tone for the entire team early. Baron brought the fight to the Lakers and ended up having his most productive night in a Clipper uniform as a result, scoring a season high 25 points while also putting up 10 assists and 5 rebounds."

Dave Feschuk, Toronto Star: "A win is a win. But, yes, the Raptors' latest dubya, their seventh in eight games, nearly turned into a loss after an alarming fourth-quarter collapse. The Raptors, understand, were laying a beating on the Eastern Conference defending champions on Wednesday night. Up 18 points on the Magic heading into the fourth quarter, Toronto's hoopsters had achieved everything they'd set out to do against a team that had defeated them in each of their previous three meetings. They'd frustrated Dwight Howard(notes) into eight turnovers and five fouls; they'd kept Orlando's league-best three-point production in check, holding them to 6-for-20. So what happened to all that stuff the Raptors were doing so well? They stopped doing it for most of the final 12 minutes. The Magic rallied. [...] Toronto's win-loss record now stands at 18-18, the first time it has been at .500 since Nov. 15."

Kate Fagan, Philadelphia Inquirer: "Not surprisingly, one of the only people not confused by Eddie Jordan's substitution scheme is Jordan himself. [...] In Tuesday night's loss, a game in which the Sixers held an 18-point, second-half lead, Jordan played his entire active roster. At game's end, only two players, center Marreese Speights(notes) (plus 10) and forward Rodney Carney(notes) (plus 5), posted a positive plus-minus, which is a relatively new statistic quantifying a player's overall in-game effect. The pair combined for 19 minutes, 49 seconds of playing time — none in the game's fourth quarter. Reserve power forward Elton Brand(notes) (even) posted the next-best number. He left the game with 8:49 remaining and did not return. Is there more to the rotation than meets the eye? 'I don't think there's necessarily more to it,' said reserve guard Willie Green(notes). 'I think from the coaching standpoint, they try to find guys that can come in the game and give us a lift. As players, we try not to focus on when we get in the game or if we're going to play; you just be ready.'"

Charles F. Gardner, MJS: "Joe Alexander has been waiting a long time for this moment. On Thursday morning, the Milwaukee Bucks' second-year forward will step into a true practice session with his teammates for the first time this season. The 6-foot-8 Alexander is expected to take part in at least some of the contact drills, which would mark a huge step in his comeback from a strained right hamstring. He suffered the original injury in late September, before the opening of training camp, and aggravated it in mid-October when it was announced he would miss eight to 12 weeks. But will Alexander really get a chance to crack the Bucks' rotation? In early November, team management declined to pick up the first option year on his rookie-scale contract, meaning he will be a free agent at the end of the current season. 'We'll do like we do with anybody else,' Bucks coach Scott Skiles said Wednesday. 'We'll put him out there, put him in practice; see how he's playing. We'll see if it looks like he warrants playing time and make decisions at that point.'"

K.C. Johnson, Chicago Tribune: "It's difficult to ascertain what makes Luol Deng(notes) grimace more — catching a simple pass or getting asked about his fractured left thumb. When originally approached about the injury Dec. 21, a full week after it happened during practice, Deng said he wouldn't discuss it unless a team official confirmed it. Deng finished December in strong fashion, but anyone who has watched the Bulls' last four games has noticed a different player. His jumper, so true most of this season, has been off badly and he has made a conscious effort to attack the basket more. That's not by accident. 'The injury is affecting me a lot, mostly my shot and dribbling, and there are times I've thought about not playing,' Deng said in his most expansive comments on the injury. 'It's tough. I'm catching passes without using my thumb and then when I'm shooting, it's almost like an adjustment with my form because my guide hand is affected.'"

Kevin Ding, OCRegister: "Remember how Kobe Bryant(notes) adopted Duke as his college basketball team even though he never went there? (And it's rather unclear whether he really would've gone there had he gone to college. At least he has real reason to align himself with Mike Krzyzewski now after their Team USA conquests.) Well, now Bryant is declaring his preferred college football team: USC. You can't call him a bandwagon-jumper, that's for sure. Asked about the upcoming national championship game between Alabama and Texas, Bryant said: 'I've adopted USC as my school of preference, so I refuse to claim anybody else.' [...] Lakers coach Phil Jackson also cares not who wins between Alabama and Texas. The pro coach said he feels the same way about college football as he does college basketball: 'Those are the boys that play, not the men.'" "Los Angeles Clippers announcer Michael Smith is charged with stealing $735,000 from a golfing buddy in a development deal gone bad. Orange County District Attorney spokeswoman Farrah Emami says the 44-year-old Smith and his business partner Bruce Furst are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday on charges of felony grand theft. Authorities say Smith persuaded his friend to put up his home as collateral for a $735,000 loan so Smith and Furst could develop land in Dana Point."

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