The 2014 Slam Dunk Contest brings a whole bunch of changes to the table, including a new team format, fans voting for a "Dunker of the Night" and some actual All-Stars doing the dunking. With the contest broken into rounds consisting of the most team dunks in 90 seconds, and then a head-to-head knockout round, there are sure to be some new surprises, but we preview the most surprising dunkers.
When: Saturday, Feb. 15
Where: Smoothie King Center, New Orleans
Watch: TNT, 8 p.m. ET (part of All-Star Saturday Night along with the Shooting Stars, Skills Challenge and Three-Point Contest)
As noted in the NBA's press release, 2014 packs more star power than the contest has seen in a couple of decades with Paul George, John Wall and Damian Lillard participating: "This marks the first time in 26 years that three All-Stars are competing in the Sprite Slam Dunk. In the 1988 competition in Chicago, All-Stars Clyde Drexler, Michael Jordan, and Dominique Wilkins squared off, with Jordan claiming the crown in front of the hometown fans."
Terrence Ross of the Toronto Raptors joins George and Wall for the East, while Sacramento Kings rookie Ben McLemore (better known for getting posterized by LeBron James this season) will play alongside Lillard and Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors for the West.
Despite the name recognition and elite athleticism of George and Lillard, look for the teams to be led by Ross and Barnes, though fans on social media will surely vote for a marquee player as the best dunker. George is the closest thing to LeBron fans will get in the contest, and he is likely to take the individual crown, but the craziest dunks won't be coming from the All-Stars.
Ross is the reigning champion in the contest after his prowess last year. He is also coming off a strong stretch of play that included a 51-point outing against the Los Angeles Clippers in a Jan. 25 loss, tying Vince Carter's franchise scoring record.
Ross hasn't come anywhere close to that scoring output since, but he's clearly getting loosened up for the dunk contest. On Jan. 31, he slammed home one of the dunks of the year and shamed Kenneth Faried in the process.
On Feb. 7, he schooled the Clippers again by deftly changing hands on a trip to the rack.
Repeating his title will be a very difficult task, especially as it will require the fans' approval of a relatively unknown player under the new system. Still, he has been percolating lately and rounds out the superior team along with George and Wall. If this was a three-on-three game, I'm taking the East all the way.
In case you're suspicious of Barnes' dunking ability, just check out the hype video his team posted on YouTube (hint: Barnes is the "Black Falcon"). Barnes will become the first member of the Warriors in the contest since Jason Richardson's 2004 appearance.
The former University of North Carolina player recalled the old dunk contests that inspired him as a kid for Diamond Leung of the San Jose Mercury News: "Obviously I watched it growing up a lot with J-Rich, Vince Carter, (video of) MJ of course, so I'm looking forward to getting in there and seeing what happens."
Leung noted that it was video of Michael Jordan in the contest because Barnes was born in 1992.
More importantly, the Warriors are soliciting dunk ideas from fans, and, judging by how awesome Dubs fans are in general—Jermaine O'Neal thinks they are the Warriors' "Superman juice," per Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area—they will come up with some trophy-worthy tricks for Barnes to showcase.