While the 63rd NBA All-Star Game between the East and West will signal the pinnacle of 2014 All-Star Weekend in New Orleans, Saturday night's skills competitions provided an ideal warm-up.
From the Shooting Stars competition to the Slam Dunk Contest, Saturday night's showcase featured something for everyone and produced a handful of eye-popping performances as well.
Below we'll highlight Saturday's top show-stopping exploits.
John Wall Thrills in Slam Dunk Contest
The Eastern Conference was outright dominant in Saturday night's marquee event: the Slam Dunk Contest. But in the end, it was Washington Wizards point guard John Wall who stole the show, earning Dunker of the Night honors after throwing down a nasty two-handed reverse jam over the Wizards' mascot, G-Man.
The Washington Post's Wizards reporter Michael Lee and CBS Sports reporter Seth Davis used Wall's triumph to poke fun at the franchise's struggles in recent years:
With the assistance of G-Man, John Wall became the first #wizards slam dunk champion ever. WAS actually won something— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) February 16, 2014
Just saw John Wall won the dunk contest. As a Wizards/Bullets fan I'm not sure how to react to success.— Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) February 16, 2014
Afterward, Wall admitted that the idea for the unique, jaw-dropping dunk came courtesy of a fan and that he had barely practiced it prior to unleashing it in New Orleans, per NBA.com:
Somebody sent me a YouTube link on my Twitter and said (here are) 27 dunks haven't been in the slam dunk contest. The first one was that one, and it seemed hard, but for me it came out to be easy.
It was only my second time doing it. My first time was on Thursday. So I felt comfortable with myself and I knew it was a dunk that hadn't been done before. And I knew the main thing was coming up with creativity, and it worked out in my favor.
With Wall competing alongside fellow All-Stars Paul George and Damian Lillard, NBA fans have to be excited about the future of the Slam Dunk Contest. Although the new format was met with mixed reaction and fans will always be clamoring for LeBron James, the presence of elite talent in 2014 bodes well for the future of All-Star Saturday Night's main event.
Marco Belinelli and Bradley Beal Shoot the Lights Out
While San Antonio Spurs guard Marco Belinelli outlasted an impressive field of long-range shooters to win the Three-Point Contest on Saturday in the Big Easy, he wasn't the only star of the show.
Washington Wizards shooting guard Bradley Beal was every bit as entertaining during the championship round, nailing each of his last six shots to tie Belinelli's final round score of 19 and force a tiebreaker.
The two sharpshooters were determined to put on a scintillating show for the packed house inside the Smoothie King Center, and certainly didn't disappoint. However, Belinelli would have the last laugh, scorching the net en route to 24 points in the tiebreaker.
Beal would come up short with 18.
Unsurprisingly, Belinelli was pleased with his performance afterwards and also credited his money-ball strategy for his success, per NBA.com:
In the end, I was focused. I really cared about this trophy. I think it was important for me to win, to be a part of this All-Star Weekend. I think it was more smart to put the money ball in the corner, so you know how many points [you need].
Although Belinelli and Beal are brand new to this stage, it's hard to be surprised by their stellar performances given how successful they've been from beyond the arc so far this season.
Midway through the year, Belinelli ranks fifth in three-point percentage at 44.8 while Beal ranks eighth, hitting at a clip of 43 percent. With both players finding their rhythm in New Orleans and gaining significant confidence along the way, they're sure to continue to play huge roles for their respective teams as each looks to compete for the title in 2014.
Young Point Guards Dominate Skills Challenge
Before Wall, Belinelli and Beal took the stage on Saturday, a pair of young floor generals were showcasing their dribbling, passing and shooting prowess in the Skills Challenge.
Portland Trail Blazers superstar Lillard and Utah Jazz rookie point guard Trey Burke took home the trophy after outlasting three other tandems. The two emerging talents set the course ablaze, finishing in a time of 45.2 seconds.
However, the victory wasn't without any drama, as Lillard and Burke's winning time was just 0.1 seconds faster than the Eastern Conference duo of Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo.
Lillard/Burke win the Taco Bell Skills Challenge by 0.1 seconds! Or did they? Photo finish?— SLAM Magazine (@SLAMonline) February 16, 2014
Lillard's performance in this event hardly came as a surprise given the incredible strides he's taken since entering the league in 2012. However, Burke's strong effort is eye-opening and encouraging for the Jazz. Although the former Michigan star's shooting numbers are down through the first half of the season, his immense potential was on display in the Skills Challenge and suggests that the 21-year-old has a bright future ahead of him.
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