Orlando, FL – It's that time of year again for the NBA's elite 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, Shooting Stars challenge, Rising Stars Challenge, D-League All-Star Game and a Celebrity All-Star game.
There are plenty of storylines leading up to the mid-season extravaganza and the biggest sidestory of the event has to be the emergence of New York Knicks guard Jeremy Lin. Lin took over the NBA and the Big Apple by storm and helped the Knicks to a seven-game winning streak before a portion of wind was taken out of his sails.
Lin will gain more exposure during the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge on Friday and will play under coach Shaquille O'Neal. Also on Team Shaq are Miami's Norris Cole, New York's Landry Fields, Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe of the Pistons, Charlotte's Kemba Walker, Tristan Thompson of the Cavs, Phoenix's Markieff Morris, Minnesota's Ricky Rubio and Griffin. Charles Barkley will pilot the other squad and drafted Kawhi Leonard of San Antonio, MarShon Brooks of New Jersey, DeMarcus Cousins of the Kings, Evan Turner of the 76ers, Cleveland's Kyrie Irving, Indiana's George, Utah's Gordon Hayward and Derrick Favors, Minnesota's Williams and John Wall of Washington.
The rookies won the last two events, but this is the first year both squads will be mixed with first-year players and sophomores.
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 best. Evans is replacing New York's Iman Shumpert because of injury and Lin was slated to assist his teammate.
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 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 because of knee tendinitis, Miami 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 chace 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 Irving, Wall, 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.
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.
Howard and Durant will coach the All-Star Celebrity Game, featuring the likes of rapper Common, NBA legends Mitch Richmond, Penny Hardaway and Nick Anderson, and Vinny Guadagnino from MTV's Jersey Shore. Teen singing sensation Justin Bieber was named MVP of the All-Star celebrity game last year despite his West squad suffering a 54-49 loss to the East. Bieber totaled eight points, four assists and a pair of rebounds. Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen led the East team with 17 points.
Also, the sixth NBA D-League All-Star Game will take place at the Orange County Convention Center on Saturday, Feb. 25.
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."
Orlando also hosted the 1992 All-Star Game.