Sadly, the third time won’t be the charm for Aaron Gordon.
The Orlando Magic forward, who finished second to Zach LaVine in the 2016 NBA Slam Dunk Contest in one of the greatest battles in the competition’s history before turning in an underwhelming performance in New Orleans, was set to make his third straight appearance in the event later this month. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to get a measure of redemption for last year, as the injury bug has bitten All-Star Weekend yet again:
.@OrlandoMagic F Aaron Gordon will miss the NBA Slam Dunk Contest at NBA All-Star Weekend on Feb. 17 because of his strained left hip flexor. Also out next 2 games.
— John Denton (@JohnDenton555) February 5, 2018
It’s a shame that Gordon, an extremely athletic and entertaining dunker who’s also in the midst of the best season of his pro career (albeit for a going-nowhere Magic team that has stumbled to the bottom of the standings after a hot start), won’t get to participate in the midseason exhibition. But every closed door means an open window somewhere, and this time, it looks like the breeze has blown in an incredibly exciting and suitable replacement who was already set to be at Staples Center on All-Star Saturday:
Donovan Mitchell says he hopes to be Aaron Gordon's replacement in the dunk contest
Utah Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell is expected to replace Orlando’s Aaron Gordon in the dunk contest on NBA All-Star weekend, league sources tell ESPN. Gordon withdrew with a hip injury.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) February 5, 2018
Donovan Mitchell got the call last night for the dunk contest. Because of that he will not do the skills contest
— Tony Jones (@tribjazz) February 5, 2018
While a shaken nation must now wait with bated breath to find out which guard will replace Mitchell in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, it bears repeating that Mitchell — the 13th overall pick out of Louisville in the 2017 NBA Draft, who has inserted himself into the Rookie of the Year race by proving to be a top-flight scorer and emerging playmaker for a Utah Jazz team that’s weathered offseason defections and myriad injuries to stay within hailing distance of a playoff spot in the Western Conference — is a very, very good choice to step into Gordon’s shoes:
Mitchell will do battle with fellow spring-heeled guard Victor Oladipo, who finished second to LaVine in 2015 and who this year is making his first All-Star appearance as a member of the Indiana Pacers; fellow rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr. of the Dallas Mavericks; and Larry Nance Jr. of the hometown of the Los Angeles Lakers, whose father, Larry Nance Sr., won the inaugural NBA Slam Dunk Contest in 1984.
The contest consists of two rounds, with participants performing any dunks they want. They get three tries to complete a dunk, with five judges scoring every dunk on a scale of six to 10. Everybody gets two dunks in the first round; the two dunkers with the highest combined scores advance to a head-to-head final round. After two more dunks, we tally up the scores, and the high man’s crowned champion.
The 2018 All-Star Saturday Night festivities will take place on — you guessed it — Saturday night, Feb. 17, at Staples Center at 8 p.m. ET. They’ll be televised on TNT and broadcast on ESPN Radio, if you’re more into the theater of the mind.
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