- Arash Markazi, ESPNLosAngeles.com
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DALLAS -- As Eric Gordon autographed basketballs at the American Airlines Center before the NBA Rookie Challenge, a friend of his smiled when asked what he thought Gordon's chances were in the first-ever Slam Dunk-In.
"I just hope he connects on his dunks," he said. "If he makes two I'll be happy."
Gordon ended up connecting on two, but the problem was that it took him a combined 10 attempts (seven on the first and three on the second), and that ended up preventing him from becoming the third Clipper to compete in the actual dunk contest on Saturday night.
DeMar DeRozan was a perfect 2-for-2 on his attempts and was able to secure 61 percent of the votes online and via text message to advance to All-Star Saturday night, when he will compete against the Lakers' Shannon Brown, two-time dunk champion Nate Robinson (New York Knicks) and Gerald Wallace (Charlotte Bobcats).
DeRozan's dunks seemed slightly tame in comparison to Gordon's as he effortlessly connected on a between-the-legs dunk and on a windmill slam as Gordon seemed willing to push the creative envelope slightly more. He finally nailed an off-the-backboard windmill dunk on his seventh attempt and got a helping hand from his sophomore teammate O.J. Mayo, who lofted the ball up so Gordon could dunk it on his third attempt.
"I actually wanted to bounce it off the backboard, catch it backwards and bring it all the way down to my legs and then finish it off, but after a couple of times I got tired and had to try something different," Gordon said of his first attempt. "On the second one I was going to have Chris Kaman do it because I had told him about it a while ago, but he just got here, and O.J. helped me out even though we hadn't practiced."
Kaman actually arrived in Dallas shortly before the start of the Rookie Challenge, after having three charter flights pushed back because of a snowstorm in Texas, and missed Friday's media session.
Although Gordon wasn't successful in knocking off DeRozan, Mayo probably didn't do anything to win back the affection of USC fans as he attempted to knock off a fellow Trojan. Mayo's best connection to Gordon actually occurred during the first half of the Rookie Challenge, when he hit a streaking Gordon on an alley-oop during a transition fast break as Gordon threw it down with authority.
"DeMar came up to me and asked me what was up with that, but I've known EG since I was 9 years old, so he trusted me to make the pass and for him to make a good dunk," Mayo said. "I wish it would have worked out."
Unfortunately, Gordon's first-half dunk in the Rookie Challenge would be the highlight of his night, as he not only lost the "dunk-in" but finished the game with six points and two turnovers in 21 minutes as the rookies beat the sophomores 140-128.
"We played unorganized. I know that's what happens in these kinds of games, but it got way out of hand," Gordon said. "You could tell the rookie group was hungry and played well together."
While DeRozan, who didn't play in the Rookie Challenge, deserved to win the dunk-in, there was a slight controversy regarding the online voting on NBA.com, as a picture of DeRozan was placed above Gordon's name and a picture of Gordon was put on top of DeRozan's name. If anything, the error might have explained how Gordon ended up with nearly 40 percent of the votes after his bevy of missed dunks.
"Someone told me about that, but I'm not even going to worry about it," Gordon said. "I'm going to enjoy the weekend."
So is DeRozan, who has been hanging out with his former USC teammate Taj Gibson, who had six points for the rookies, and has been talking with DeRozan about his plans to become the second USC player to win the dunk contest since Harold Miner won in 1993 and 1995.
"I've been hanging with DeMar since we both landed here and I've been telling him from the jump, 'You better represent for SC and you better win,' and he said, 'I got it in the bag,'" Gibson said. "After his first dunk he said, 'It was too easy. I've done tougher dunks at USC.' I told him, 'Don't worry about it. You have tomorrow night.'"
Although Gordon will not be competing in the dunk contest, he will be attending along with Kaman, as well as watching his teammate play in Sunday's All-Star Game, trying to soak up as much as he can from the first of what he hopes will be many All-Star weekends.
"It's been tough playing for the Clippers because we haven't been playing that well lately, but for me individually, for them to see my success is good," Gordon said. "That means teams are looking at me hard. That's important, because I want to be back here every year."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
It wasn't Eric Gordon's night, but he promised to enjoy his All-Star stay.