Charlotte Hornets

Kyle Kuzma earns MVP, leads USA to high-flying 161-144 win in NBA Rising Stars game

U.S. Team’s Kyle Kuzma, a second-year pro from the Los Angeles Lakers, dunks against the World Team during the NBA All-Star Rising Stars game Friday night at Spectrum Center.
U.S. Team’s Kyle Kuzma, a second-year pro from the Los Angeles Lakers, dunks against the World Team during the NBA All-Star Rising Stars game Friday night at Spectrum Center. AP

A glorified scrimmage, a no-defense charade — call it the NBA Rising Stars Game, whatever you want, but it certainly was one thing:

Exciting as all heck.

Behind 35 points from Los Angeles Lakers forward and game MVP Kyle Kuzma and another 30 from Boston Celtics wing Jayson Tatum, Team USA defeated Team World 161-144 on Friday night in the first NBA All-Star Weekend event with current players.

But really, the score mattered less Friday night than all the sensational plays and displays of athleticism on the court at Spectrum Center. With the first five picks in the 2018 NBA draft all participating in the same game, it was a night to celebrate the best and brightest young stars in the entire league.

The game, not known for defensive effort, at least remained close through the first three quarters. But by the middle of the fourth quarter, Team USA had pulled away for good... and then the real circus shots started coming out.

And by circus, we’re talking completely uncontested dunks, cross-court heaves, and stepback 3-pointers. Hey, it’s supposed to be for fun, right?

Celebrities have been spotted all over Charlotte during NBA All-Star Weekend.

Three who mattered

Ben Simmons: He made 10 of his first 11 shots, did practically anything he wanted offensively — both in terms of scoring and passing — and led the World in scoring with 28 points.

Kuzma: The Lakers’ only representative, he certainly earned all the fans’ cheers he had coming by the end of the game.

John Collins: Former Wake Forest star may not have made the biggest impact on the stat sheet, but his jaw-dropping dunks were easily the most entertaining plays of the game.

Observations

The Sacramento Kings had the most players participating in Friday’s game with former Duke star Marvin Bagley III and guard De’Aaron Fox for Team USA, and guard Bogdan Bogdanovic for Team World.

Brooklyn Nets center Jarrett Allen was the last player to score... with a free throw in the fourth quarter.

The longest 3-pointer made of the night? Not Atlanta Hawks rookie Trae Young, or sharpshooting Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen, but... Memphis Grizzlies rookie forward Jaren Jackson Jr. Jackson was teammates with Charlotte Hornets rookie Miles Bridges last season at Michigan State.

Last season’s Rising Stars MVP, Bogdanovic, finished the night with a more pedestrian 15 points and six assists compared to his 2018 numbers of 26 points and six assists.

Overall highlight of the night? That unofficial award goes to Young, who crossed over Minnesota Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie before then dribbling between Okogie’s legs and winning a foul call.

Worth mentioning

Two of the loudest cheers of the night actually were for coaches, not players. Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki (World) and Celtics guard Kyrie Irving (USA) were two of the special assistant coaches Friday night, and both will participate in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

Collins, who will compete against Bridges in Saturday’s dunk contest, gave fans a little preview Friday night with a handful of sensational dunks. The best of the bunch? An underhanded alley-oop — that he threw to himself off the backboard — about a minute before halftime.

With the Celebrity Game ending across town at almost the exact same time as the Rising Stars game began, there weren’t a ton of celebrities in attendance Friday night, but there were quite a few NBA All-Stars, including Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns and Nets guard D’Angelo Russell.

Report card

A+ OFFENSE: If you enjoy dunks, alley-oop dunks, 3-point shots, behind-the-back passes, and everything fun about offensive basketball, then Friday night was a good time.

F DEFENSE: What’s that?

NBA superstar and Charlotte native Stephen Curry was among the NBA players to help children during the Fourth Annual Jr. NBA Day on Friday, February 15, 2019 event at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Brendan Marks is a general assignment sports reporter for the Charlotte Observer covering the Carolina Panthers, Charlotte Hornets, NASCAR and more. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has worked for the Observer since August 2017.
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