Lillard, Covington, Simons Selected To Compete In All-Star Game, Skills Challenge, Dunk Contest

by Casey Holdahl
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Like most things these days, the 2021 NBA All-Star Game, scheduled for March 7 at State Farm Arena in Atlanta, won’t be all that close to the event that we’ve become accustomed to seeing every season. The location changed from Indianapolis to Atlanta, some of the usual events won’t take place and all of the festivities will be held on one night rather than over the course of a weekend.

And while fans will be in attendance for the game, the number in arena will be limited and none of the events and activations that are usually held at All-Star Weekend for fans will take place. Perhaps next year.

But while it won’t be the same, there are plenty of reasons for Trail Blazers fans to tune into TNT’s coverage Sunday afternoon.

First and foremost, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard was one of the seven Western Conference players selected as an All-Star reserve via coaches vote and will participate in the All-Star Game Sunday night. The 6-3 point guard in his ninth season out of Weber State tied with Mavericks guard Luka Doncic in the vote to determine the second starting spot among West guards, but was beaten out for the honor due to losing the fan vote and despite garnering double the amount of votes among players and media.

But either way, Lillard will be there. And while he's not starting, he was selected by LeBron James to play on "Team LeBron" with the first reserve pick. It's the third time that James has selected Lillard in the All-Star Draft. 

“Every year that they’ve done (the draft) I’ve been on LeBron’s team,” said Lillard. “I think it’s pretty cool that he picks me every year, I get to play with Bron every year in the All-Star Game cause he pick me. He’s the best player of our generation, the greatest player of our generation. I’m a Trail Blazer, I’ve been here my whole career, so just to have the opportunity to go out there and mix it up with the rest of the best players in the league and rock out with Bron a little bit is always fun.”

Lillard will be joined on "Team LeBron" by Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Ben Simmons, Jaylen Brown, Paul George, Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis.

While Lillard has been a stalwart of ALl-Star Weekend for most of the last decade, he typically hasn’t had much company from his teammates at the yearly event. That will not be the case this time around, as two of Lillard’s fellow Trail Blazers are also participating in a few of the other events, truncated as they may be, at All-Star Weekend in Atlanta.

Forward Robert Covington has accepted an invitation to compete in the Skills Challenge, a timed obstacle course of sorts that puts passing, dribbling and shooting to the test. One of the foremost themes of this year’s All-Star Weekend is celebrating Historically Black Colleges and Universities, often referred to as HBCUs, and considering that Covington, an alumni of Tennessee State, is the only current NBA player who attended an HBCU, he felt the need to participate.

“For (the NBA) to come to me and highlight what they’re planning on doing and me being the only athlete from an HBCU in the NBA, it’s only right that I do it,” said Covington. “It’s a great opportunity. Of course I would love to have a break but them types of experiences, you don’t really get to get. I was excited to be a part of that and for them to think about me within that moment. Being the only athlete from an HBCU, it gives kids like that hope that maybe someday there will be another one.”

Covington will be up against Luka Doncic, Chris Paul, Julius Randle, Domantas Sabonis and Nikola Vucevic for the Skills Challenge title, which will be the first event held on All-Star Sunday.

And then at the halftime of the All-Star Game, Trail Blazers guard Anfernee Simons will compete against New York’s Obi Toppin and Indiana’s Cassius Stanley in the 2021 Dunk Contest after the NBA extended an invitation last weekend.

“It’s going to be fun,” said Simons. “Right now just trying to figure out what I’m going to do. It’s not last minute but I wasn’t expecting to get the call. It’s crazy.”

The Trail Blazers led a campaign to get the 6-3 guard in the Dunk Contest at least year’s All-Star Weekend in Chicago, and though that campaign ultimately failed, it laid the groundwork for Simons’ inclusion in this year’s competition.

“I was in shock!” said Simons. “I was kind of making my plans for All-Star break, not going to Atlanta, going somewhere else. When I got the call I was kinda stuck for a second trying to take it all in.”

Simons, now in his third season out of IMG Academy, already has what he referred to as “concepts” for dunks he would like to pull off in the competition, though he’s now trying to fine tune his ideas, all while preparing for the final two games of Portland’s first half schedule.

“I’ve got dunks that I really want to do, just basic ones, and kind of add something creative to it,” said Simons. “I wouldn’t say I have everything down pat, but over the next couple days -- we’ve got a back-to-back coming up -- so trying to find time to actually practice and go over ideas on the court.”

While the 2021 Dunk Contest will be different -- there are only three dunkers this season rather than four and it’s usually the final event of All-Star Saturday night, rather than the halftime entertainment for the All-Star Game itself -- Simons is both honored and excited to participate, if for no other reasons than he wants to do right by those who have supported his candidacy.

“It’s pretty cool because I’m not really known around the league as a dunker,” said Simons. “That lets me know that kind of word of mouth kind of helped me out a lot, people advocating for me behind the scenes. It’s pretty cool that people behind the scenes are vouching for me and wanted me to put my name out there and show what I can really do.”

You can catch Lillard, Covington and Simons participating in the All-Star festivities starting Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on TNT.

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