High-flying Iguodala dominates Rookie Challenge
HOUSTON -- Attention Josh Smith. You have competition.
Either Andre Iguodala was sending a message or he mistakenly thought it was Saturday already. Because whether it was an alley-oop or a breakaway or a forceful flush down the lane, the slam dunk contest participant was finishing jams as if judges were watching from the sideline with scorecards in their hands.
Only this was still Friday and he was playing in the Rookie Challenge.
No matter, his skills didn't go unnoticed as he was named the MVP of the contest -- the usual run and cherry pick affair that had the Sophomores win again, this time 106-96.
"The whole team realized he was feeling it," said Bulls second-year forward Luol Deng. "We wanted to give him the ball. We all told coach to put him back in the game. When anyone's feeling it ... We're all here to have fun, we wanna watch it."
They got their money's worth as Iguodala finished with 30 points on 13-for-17 shooting and even threw in four 3-pointers to remind the crowd that he's not just a dunker.
With the game decided early in the second half, the crowd was left anticipating something spectacular every time he touched the ball and psyched for his appearance in tomorrow night's slam dunk competition, wondering if he has anything left in the tank.
"I've got a couple of things under my sleeve," he said. "Everything I did today, you've seen before. I am going to try some new things tomorrow."
For now, he'll let the raw athleticism of the next generation of NBA stars linger -- the high-flying acts of Iguodala and company, the skilled passing of big men like Andrew Bogut, and even the rhythmic steps of Devin Harris, Dwight Howard and Nate Robinson, who did the electric slide with some kids from New York during halftime.
The outcome of the game was a secondary afterthought.
"You only get one rookie season," said Chris Paul, who had a game-high 11 assists. "So, I hate that we lost, but this was one of the best games I've ever played in."
It was even sweeter for the sophs who lost as rookies in 2005.
"We got whooped last year," said Harris. "We had to return the favor."
But not without being impressed by the newcomers, especially Charlie Villauneva, Toronto's controversial No. 7 pick, who finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds in 27 minutes.
"Charlie was pretty impressive," said Deng, who checked the Raptors rookie throughout the night. "I thought they played well, but we just picked it up a little."
By constantly feeding the hot hand of Iguodala, who was humbled by the MVP award.
"It's a confidence booster."
As if he needed more ups.
Matt Wong is an NBA editor at ESPN.com.
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