On Saturday night, the 2014 Slam Dunk Contest will take place in New Orleans, during NBA All-Star Weekend. It will conclude the list of events before the All-Star Game, itself, is played on Sunday.
The contest was the highlight of the weekend for many years, though it’s lost its luster recently. The league’s best players, such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant, have never been a part of the competition. This season, though, might be different, with three All-Stars competing.
Defending champion Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors returns for a shot at a second straight victory. He’s joined by the Indiana Pacers’ Paul George and John Wall of the Washington Wizards from the Eastern Conference. Both George and Wall made the All-Star team.
The Western Conference features three players that were all drafted within the last two years. Rookie Ben McLemore from the Sacramento Kings will compete in the contest. Golden State’s Harrison Barnes made the cut, as well as Damian Lillard, who’s one of two Portland All-Stars.
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Not only is George the best overall player in the contest, but he’s also the favorite to win it. According to Bovada.lv, he’s the leader with 7/4 odds. After taking home the title last year, Ross isn’t far behind him at 3/1. John Wall comes in at No.3 on the list at 9/2.
All of the Western Conference contestants round out the bottom three. Barnes and McLemore are tied with 11/2 odds. A Lillard win would be the biggest upset, considering his odds are set at 6/1.
This year’s Slam Dunk Contest will be unlike any other in years past. For the first time, the players will be divided into two teams and separated by conference. The East will face the West in the Battle Round, as dunkers go head-to-head with a player from the other conference. The first team to win three battles takes the round. Fans will then vote for the overall winner.
Before the Battle Round begins, a 90-second round will determine which team gets to dunk first or second in the head-to-head matchups. During this one minute and 30-second span, the players can complete as many dunks as possible. The panel judges will choose the winning conference.
George has been the most impressive in-game dunker this season, but that doesn’t exactly translate into winning the competition. The Pacers star came up short in the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest. Ross isn’t a great overall player, but his athletic ability allows him to perform dunks that many NBA stars can’t.
Ross’s experience will also benefit him. Having already competed in the contest gives him an advantage over the other players, evidenced by the fact that there have been five repeat winners. Look for Ross to become No.6.