BLEDSOE TO DUNK ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Eric Bledsoe’s in-game dunks are spectacular enough. But next weekend the Clippers’ young guard will get an opportunity to get creative.  

The NBA announced Thursday that Bledsoe will take part in the 2013 Sprite Slam Dunk, joining James White, Kenneth Faried, Terrence Ross and past dunk contest winners Jeremy Evans and Gerald Green in Houston on Feb. 16.

This year’s event will consist of three Eastern Conference dunkers competing against three Western Conference dunkers in a two-round competition. The highest scoring East competitor and the highest scoring West competitor from the Team Round will compete head-to-head to determine the champion. Fan voting will open at the beginning of the Championship Round and the player with the highest percentage of combined votes from all platforms will be declared the winner.

“Pretty much everybody watches the dunk contest, so the NBA selecting me [means] they think I’ve got a chance to win,” Bledsoe said. “It’s a great situation.”

It is fitting that the Clippers, who for two seasons have boasted the most exciting collection of dunkers in the league, would have a representative at the premier event of All-Star Saturday Night. And it might be even more fitting that it’s Bledsoe. He is averaging career highs in points (9.8), rebounds (3.2) and steals (1.7) and has started 12 of the last 14 games in place of injured All-Star Chris Paul, emerging as one of the most promising youngsters in the league.

Bledsoe, 22, said he has not put a lot of thought into what dunks he will use in the contest next weekend because he’s been so focused on helping the Clippers win games. But if an impromptu dunking exhibition at a rookie photo shoot in 2010 is any indication, Bledsoe will be just fine. On that day shortly after the draft, Bledsoe and several other rookies took turns dunking, including one miss by Bledsoe where he had to duck his head to avoid hitting the backboard.

In 51 games this year, he’s produced that kind of astonishing highlight in games. He flew in for follow dunk in Atlanta where it looked like he was two feet above everyone else on the floor. He caught a lob from Paul on the break a week after that for a right-handed dunk where he displayed his athleticism and freakishly long arms, reaching back to grab the pass behind and throw it down without bringing his left to the ball. Plays like that have come more and more often as the season’s progressed.

Bledsoe will attempt to become the third Clippers player to win the dunk contest.

Blake Griffin starred as the 2011 winner, completing four dunks that displayed his athleticism, power and showmanship. His final slam of the night, two-handed alley-oop leaping over the hood of a KIA Optima, has become something of dunk contest lore. Fifteen years earlier, guard turned NBA TV analyst, Brent Barry, won it, earning a score of 49.0 on a free throw line dunk that was reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s iconic throw down in 1988.

Here’s a look at five of Bledsoe’s best in-game dunks from the last two seasons:  

Bledsoe’s high-flying putback in Atlanta (Nov. 24, 2012):

Jamal Crawford flips the ball back to Bledsoe for a reverse alley-oop vs. Dallas (Dec. 5, 2012):

Chris Paul leaves a lob for Bledsoe to throw down with a soaring right-handed jam against the Kings (Dec. 1, 2012): 

Bledsoe drives past his defender and splits two more for a dunk down the center of the lane vs. Sacramento (Apr. 7, 2012): 

Paul feeds Bledsoe off the glass for the jam against Sacramento (Apr. 7, 2012):