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NBA Slam Dunk Contest 2021: Schedule, Prediction and Last-Minute Preview

Nate Loop@Nate_LoopFeatured ColumnistMarch 7, 2021

Indiana Pacers guard Cassius Stanley (2) plays against the Toronto Raptors during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis, Monday, Jan. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

If you've heard that Sunday night is the NBA All-Star Game, and are worried that you somehow missed the Slam Dunk Contest, there's nothing to fear. Unlike most years, where the skills competitions have their own special night, the NBA's condensed All-Star Weekend schedule means the Slam Dunk Contest will be taking place at halftime of the All-Star Game.

The number of competitors has shrunk too, with just three players vying for this year's crown. Obi Toppin (New York Knicks), Cassius Stanley (Indiana Pacers) and Anfernee Simons (Portland Trail Blazers) will be looking to provide viewers with a lasting memory of their high-flying exploits in Atlanta.

     

2021 Dunk Contest Info

When: Sunday, March 7, during All-Star Game halftime (game starts 8 p.m. ET)

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Where: State Farm Arena in Atlanta

TV: TNT

Live stream: TNTDrama.com

The format and scoring is largely unchanged from years past. A panel of five judges, which includes the likes of Jason Richardson and Dominique Wilkins, will award each dunk up to a total of 50 points. The top two scorers will then move on to the final round, which is where things will be a little more cutthroat this time around. 

Each player will have just one dunk to prove their worth in the final, and instead of a score, the judges will instead confer and pick a winner by holding up a card with their name, per SportingNews.com's Joe Rivera.

In future years, fans will probably hope to see more participants and dunks in total, but the change to the final round could be a welcome development. Not all 50-point dunks are created equal. If Toppin, Stanley or Simons does something truly mind-bending in the last round, there won't be any room for controversy.

As for the players themselves, this could be a big chance to make a splash. Toppin and Stanley are both rookies. Toppin is still fighting for minutes in a plucky Knicks squad, while Stanley has spent much of the season with the Pacers' G League affiliate, the Fort Wayne Mad Ants. Simons, now in his third year with Portland, is a bit more established, but he's hardly a household name. That could change with a couple of monster dunks Sunday night.

Here's a look at the 21-year-old Simons throwing it down in earlier this season, via The Athletic:

The Athletic @TheAthletic

Anfernee Simons has begun collaborating with last year’s dunk champion Derrick Jones Jr. in preparation for the Dunk Contest. The teammates met after practice on Sunday to “to get ideas flowing.” 👀 @AnferneeSimons 🎥: @trailblazers https://t.co/LDYPPKV1Bg

Toppin was a frequent flyer in college last year with Dayton, dunking a grand total of 107 times, per CBS Sports' Gary Parrish. He's kept up the attacks on the rim in the pros, via NBA Canada:

NBA Canada @NBACanada

DUNK of the Night: February 13th 👉 Obi Toppin of the @nyknicks https://t.co/rU6rL98wxl



Stanley is well versed in the art of the slam. BallisLife.com recently posted a clip on Twitter showing what he's capable of in the air: 

Ballislife.com @Ballislife

Cassius Stanley in the NBA Dunk Contest! He registered a 44-inch max vert at the NBA Draft combine. Via @ChrisJHoops | #AlwaysGame https://t.co/xzWd4LVSFF

The Duke product hopes originality will help separate him from the other two in the contest.

"I have a plan," Stanley said, per the Los Angeles Times' Dan Woike. "All my dunks are original. All my dunks have never been done before."

In case you were wondering, Toppin has the height advantage in this group. He stands 6"9, while Stanley is 6'5" and Simons comes in at 6'3". Height can help with some types of dunks, like ones with longer takeoff points, but creativity, explosiveness and precision are much more important. Any one of these three players has a chance to do something special Sunday, but look for Stanley to get the nod over Toppin in the final round.

Prediction: Stanley beats Toppin

      

Player measurements courtesy of NBA.com.

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