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NBA All-Star weekend impresses, Jones Jr. edges out Gordon for dunk contest

The last few weeks of the NBA season have been difficult for many, with the tragic news of the passing of the late Kobe Bryant, a global sports icon. Coupled with the wild trade deadline and the probability of a Los Angeles team representing the western conference in the finals, the season is shaking up just in time for the All-Star break. As the 2020 All-Star festivities highlight basketball players, it also provides rest for coaches and players within the league. At the halfway point of the regular season, the final 30 games either will bring teams to the playoffs or the offseason. 

The weekend began with a well-received contest of Team World vs Team USA, with the United States squad knocking off their international counterparts 151-131. Team USA shot lights out, hitting 63% of their shots from the floor, while ten players registered double-digit point totals, highlighted by Golden State Warriors young, small forward Eric Paschall contributing 23 points on 77% shooting. The United States was dominant from the opening jump, supported through New Orleans Pelicans small forward Zion Williamson’s athleticism and Atlanta Hawks point guard Trae Young’s assassin-level sniping from beyond the arch. Charlotte Hornets small forward Miles Bridges took home MVP honors, while New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett (Canada/NYK) dropped 27 points.

The second event of the long week was the celebrity game, coached by commentators Michael Wilbon and Stephen A. Smith. The rapper Common was named MVP of the contest after leading Team Wilbon with 10 points, five rebounds, three assists and four steals. Midway through the contest, both squads were reinforced by former NBA players Horace Grant and Nate Robinson, with Grant joining Wilbon’s squad and Robinson joining Smith’s. A mind-boggling statistic came in the third quarter of play, as Smith was called for a technical foul for his continuous sounding off throughout the contest, marking the first technical foul ever in a celebrity All-Star game.

The third event was the skills challenge, pitting players against each other in their combined ability to run the floor, pass, dribble and shoot. With all of that being said, a final match up between Miami Heat forward Bam Adebayo and Indiana Pacers power forward Domantas Sabonis was not expected by many going in, but Adebayo’s relentless hustle up and down the court cemented him as the skills challenge champion, draining the winning three-pointer against Sabonis. 

Before the climatic dunk contest came the traditional three-point contest. News broke that Phoenix Suns point guard Devin Booker was replacing Portland Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard, with the latter being sidelined with a groin injury for the next two weeks. 

The first round saw Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Harris and Chicago Bulls point guard Zach Lavine struggle to handle the pressure. Lavine cleared his entire first and last racks, including the money balls, but was unable to do much at the top of the key, sending him home early. Washington Wizards power forward Davis Bertans, Sacramento Kings’ shooting guard Buddy Hield, and Booker reached the finals with point totals of 27, 27 and 26 respectively. The contest between Booker and Hield came down to the buzzer, as Hield hit the clinching corner three. Hield is the second Kings player, after small forward Peja Stojakovic, to accomplish such a feat. This prompted Hield to wear Stojakovic’s jersey out of respect for the retired Kings’ player. 

Finally, the dunk contest was upon us, and the matchups this year brought back heavyweight contender Aaron Gordon, who served up five perfect score dunks on the night but was unable to take home the victory. Miami Heat shooting guard Derrick Jones Jr. went toe-to-toe with Gordon, utilizing teammate Adebayo and other props to give his dunks a solid style. Gordon has blown people’s minds with each year he’s shown up to the contest, and he didn’t disappoint this time, jumping over Boston Celtic’s 7-foot-5-inch center Tacko Fall for the slam, sending the crowd onto their feet with cheers. The judges made a controversial call between both of the dunkers, giving Jones Jr. the edge and the title of dunk contest champion, preferring his clean grabs and smooth dunks as opposed to Gordon’s flash. 

As a whole, the entirety of All-Star weekend gave teams a well-deserved break, while highlighting the best young rising stars in front of all of the NBA. The regular season resumes on Thursday, Feb. 20, as the Milwaukee Bucks are hosting the Detroit Pistons with tipoff at 7 p.m.

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