Los Angeles Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin is among the league leaders in dunks through the first half of the NBA season and will get a chance to showcase his leaping ability Saturday in the 2011 Slam Dunk contest during the NBA All-Star Game festivities in Hollywood.
The rookie Griffin will be joined by Oklahoma City Thunder forward Serge Ibaka, center JaVale McGee of the Washington Wizards and Toronto Raptors swingman DeMar DeRozan, who is taking the place of Milwaukee Bucks guard Brandon Jennings. Jennings, while back in the lineup for Milwaukee, bowed out after undergoing foot surgery.
DeRozan finished second overall in last year's dunk competition as a rookie, while Nate Robinson became the first three-time champion of this event. Robinson will not compete this year and is only the fifth player to win the contest at least twice, joining Michael Jordan (1987-88), Dominique Wilkins (1985, 1990), Harold Minor (1993, 1995) and Jason Richardson (2002-03).
Each dunker in the 2011 event will be matched up with a coach to work on and create certain jams. Griffin will be paired up with Kenny Smith, DeRozan has Darryl Dawkins, McGee and Chris Webber are set to mix ideas and Ibaka has his teammate and reigning NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant for assistance. There will also be a "dunk selection ceremony" where the participants will choose which dunks they want to keep or discard. Fans will once again have a say on who wins the event, an idea which debuted in 2008, via text messaging and NBA.com. The two dunkers with the highest first-round scores will move on to the final round. Also, time limit rules still apply.
Griffin, the first rookie to appear in an NBA All-Star Game since Yao Ming in 2003, is also slated to participate in the Rookie Challenge & Youth Jam on Friday, along with Clippers teammate Eric Bledsoe. Griffin, who is the 10th Clipper in franchise history to be selected to the All-Star Game and just the fourth since 1993, will be joined by fellow rookies John Wall of Washington, DeMarcus Cousins of Sacramento, Derrick Favors of the Nets, Landry Fields from the Knicks, Minnesota's Wesley Johnson, Detroit's Greg Monroe and Gary Neal of the Spurs.
The sophomore team will consist of DeJuan Blair of the Spurs, Golden State's Stephen Curry, Toronto's DeRozan, Taj Gibson of the Bulls, Jrue Holiday of the 76ers, Oklahoma City's Ibaka and James Harden, Milwaukee's Jennings and Wesley Matthews of the Trail Blazers. Reigning Rookie of the Year Tyreke Evans of the Kings will miss the game with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. The Rookies won last season for the first time since 2002 by a 140-128 score, as Evans led the way with 26 points, six rebounds and five assists for MVP.
Celtics star Paul Pierce will defend his three-point title in the 2011 Three- Point Contest Saturday. Pierce defeated Curry in last year's challenge and is trying to join a list of multiple three-point champions. Jeff Hornacek, Jason Kapono, Mark Price and Peja Stojakovic have won this even twice in their career, while Larry Bird and Craig Hodges are the only three-time champions. Joining Pierce will be Celtics teammate and new NBA three-point king Ray Allen, Durant, Cleveland's Daniel Gibson, Miami's James Jones and Dorell Wright of Golden State. Allen was the champion back in 2001 as a member of Milwaukee.
All players will battle in the two-round competition with the top three shooters from the first round advancing to the finals. Each player will have one minute to shoot as many balls as he can, as five shooting stations will be set up around the three-point line. Four game balls worth one point each and one All-Star commemorative "money ball" worth two points will be at the end of each station.
The annual Skills Challenge took on an interactive theme this year as Curry, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls, Wall and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder were selected by the fans to compete against Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets.
Phoenix Suns superstar Steve Nash defeated Utah Jazz phenom Deron Williams in last year's Skills Challenge. Nash was able to make a layup, a chest, bounce and outlet pass through hoops, a jump shot and then a dribble with a finishing layup in 29.9 seconds to win the event for the first time since 2005. Rose won it in 2009, while Williams was the 2008 champ.
Once again the Haier Shooting Stars will take place during the weekend extravaganza, with teams representing Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago and Texas. The defending champion Texas team will have Mavs All-Star Dirk Nowitzki, WNBA's Roneeka Hodges of the San Antonio Silver Stars and TNT NBA analyst Kenny Smith. Team Texas defeated LA in last year's finals, as Nowitzki, Smith and Becky Hammon of the Silver Stars took home winning honors.
The Los Angeles team will consist of Lakers center Pau Gasol, Tina Thompson of the LA Sparks and former Laker and current analyst Rick Fox, while Team Atlanta is comprised of Hawks forward Al Horford, NBA analyst Steve Smith and Atlanta Dream star Coco Miller. The Bulls' Gibson, Cathrine Kraayveld of the Chicago Sky and NBA analyst Steve Kerr are representing Team Chicago.
For the fifth consecutive year the NBA Development League will showcase its All-Star Game on Center Court. Tulsa 66ers head coach Nate Tibbetts and his assistant Dale Osbourne will coach a West team highlighted by Joe Alexander and Sean Williams of the Texas Legends. The East squad will be guided by Iowa Energy head coach Nick Nurse and his assistant Nate Bjorkgren. That squad will feature Patrick Ewing Jr. of the Sioux Falls Skyforce, Chris Johnson of the Dakota Wizards and Maine Red Claws hoopster DeShawn Sims.
Springfield's Scottie Reynolds was added to the East squad while Idaho's Cedric Jackson, Reno's Marcus Landry and Rio Grande's Jerel McNeal were recently selected as replacements on the West team. The additions were made since Dexter Pittman, Zabian Dowdell, Trey Johnson and Mustafa Shakur were all called up to the NBA and are now unable to play in the contest.
Finally, the celebrity All-Star game will take place Friday and feature stars from television, movies, sports and entertainment. Among those expected to compete are pop artist Justin Bieber, comedian Jimmy Kimmel, rapper Common and former NBA stars Magic Johnson, Scottie Pippen and Bill Walton. The NBA will not have the H.O.R.S.E. competition this time around. Durant won it both years in the short lifespan of the classic driveway game.
Finally, the 60th NBA All-Star Game caps the weekend off on Sunday at Staples Center.