It's that time of year again for the NBA's Star Game at Orlando's Amway Center.
The house that Dwight Howard built will feature the highly-anticipated Slam Dunk contest, Three-point Shootout, Skills Challenge and Shooting Stars Competition on All-Star Saturday Night.
The contestants set to defy gravity in the Slam Dunk contest are Houston's Chase Budinger, Indiana's Paul George, Utah's Jeremy Evans and Derrick Williams of the Timberwolves. It's not a sexy list of jumpers, but this event is arguably the most anticipated each and every year. The high-flying Evans is replacing New York's Iman Shumpert because of injury and Jeremy Lin was slated to assist his teammate.
"We actually had a sweet idea Iman came up with," Lin said. "Landry (Fields) was going to roll a couch out with a cover over it. I was going to be sleeping underneath it and then we were going to pull the cover. I was going to throw Iman an alley-oop from the couch and he was going to jump over both me and the couch, windmill and then sit down."
It's now up to the four remaining competitors to get creative with Budinger, a former volleyball player likely to become a crowd favorite.
There will be no chance for a repeat champion in this contest since Clippers superstar Blake Griffin will not defend his crown much to the chagrin of the fans. New rules were put in place for the event and it will consist of just one round with each player having three chances. Fan voting will begin after all four players have completed their first dunk. Since the 2008 festivities, fans have determined the winner of the dunk contest.
Another popular event for All-Star weekend is always the three-point shootout. Miami's James Jones is set to defend his title against Thunder star Kevin Durant, who's taking the spot of Atlanta's Joe Johnson (knee tendinitis), Heat teammate Mario Chalmers, Orlando's Ryan Anderson, Kevin Love of the Timberwolves and New Jersey's Anthony Morrow.
Jones dethroned Boston's Paul Pierce a year ago by scoring 20 points in the final round, besting Pierce's 18 points and Celtics sharpshooter Ray Allen's 15. The competitors will participate in a two-round tournament and the top three finishers from the opening round will advance to the finals.
Five shooting stations will be set up around the three-point line and four official game balls worth one point each and one All-Star 2012 commemorative "money ball" worth two points at each spot. Each player will have one minute to shoot as many balls as he can. In the final round, players will shoot in ascending order of first-round scores. The last two-time winner of this event was Jason Kapono back in 2007 and 2008.
Golden State's Stephen Curry won't get a chance to defend his Skills Challenge title this year, as he was a late scratch from the event because of a strained tendon in his right foot. Instead Rajon Rondo of the Celtics will take his place and try his luck against a handful of talented ballers in the Cavs' Kyrie Irving, the MVP of Friday night's Rising Stars challenge, John Wall of Washington, Deron Williams of the Nets, Russell Westbrook of the Thunder and San Antonio's Tony Parker.
Miami's Dwyane Wade and Steve Nash of the Suns are the only multiple winners of this event. The Skills Challenge is a two-round timed obstacle course with dribbling drills, passing and shooting stations. The three participants with the fastest times from the first round move on to the final round.
Also squads from New York, Texas, Atlanta and All-Star Game host Orlando will battle in the Haier Shooting Stars. The host city will have Magic guard Jameer Nelson, WNBA star Marie Ferdinand-Harris and former Orlando great Dennis Scott. Team Atlanta was supposed to feature Johnson, but the Hawks are resting their superstar, so veteran Jerry Stackhouse will take his place. Lindsay Harding of the Atlanta Dream and NBA TV analyst and former Hawk Steve Smith are also on the Atlanta squad. Fields, Liberty's Cappie Pondexter and Knicks legendary sharp- shooter Allan Houston will represent New York during the event. As for Team Texas, the Rockets' Chandler Parsons will join Sophia Young of the San Antonio Silver Stars and TNT analyst Kenny Smith.
Team Atlanta defeated Team Texas in last year's event.
The fun got started on Friday with Howard and Durant coaching the All-Star Celebrity Game that featured the likes of rapper/actor Common, NBA legends Mitch Richmond, Penny Hardaway and Nick Anderson, and Vinny Guadagnino from MTV's Jersey Shore. Comedian Kevin Hart stole the show, however, and registered eight points, six assists and about 10 jokes that broke up the crowd at the NBA All-Star Jam Session.
The Friday festivities finished at Amway Center in spectacular fashion when Irving knocked down all eight of his three-point attempts en rote to a game- high 34 points as Team Chuck, coached by Charles Barkley, topped Team Shaq, mentored by Shaquille O'Neal, 146-133, in the 2012 Rising Stars Challenge.
Irving's eight bombs were the second most in Challenge history behind teammate Boobie Gibson's 11 back in back in 2007 and his 34 total points were fourth best ever.
Washington's John Wall and the Kings' DeMarcus Cousins, teammates in college at Kentucky, also had strong performances for Team Chuck. Wall, the MVP in the 2011 game after dishing out 22 assists, finished with 17 points and eight helpers while Cousins, who scored a game-best 33 last season, netted 18 with 11 rebounds this time around.
The Sixers' Evan Turner, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, was not selected to play in the Challenge as a rookie but made up for it this time around, flirting with a triple-double and finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists on 8-of-9 shooting for Team Chuck.
Team Shaq was paced by Cavs rookie and Irving's teammate Tristan Thompson, who came off the bench to score 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting. Detroit second- year center Greg Monroe added 19 points and Heat rookie Norris Cole contributed 18 points O'Neal's club.
The rookies won the last two events, but this was the first year both squads were mixed with rookies and sophomores. Each celebrity coach picked his own players in a draft held earlier.
The 61st NBA All-Star Game caps the weekend on Sunday at Amway Center.
"As a premier entertainment destination with a new, state-of-the-art arena and a wide array of hospitality options, Orlando is an obvious and compelling choice to host this celebration of our game," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. "We thank the Magic, Orlando and Orange County for once again welcoming NBA All-Star."