Kyle Kuzma MVP? We like the sound of that.
Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma proved he was ready for the bright lights of the NBA All-Star Weekend as he put on an MVP performance in the Rising Stars game on Friday night in Charlotte.
Kuzma led all scorers with 35 points and hoisted the game's MVP trophy following the win, as his USA team defeated the World Squad, 161-144.
Bosto Celtics sophomore forward Jayson Tatum scored 30 points for the U.S. team, as the two teams combined for 37 three-pointers, 55 ducks and just 12 free throws in the exhibition match.
"Last year, the World team kicked our butts," Kuzma said. "They came in here and beat us by 30. A lot of us kind of remembered that."
It was 31, actually — 155-124, not that it matters.
Kuzma had quite the day on Friday in Charlotte. Not only did he take home MVP honors in the Rising Stars game, but he also had many a comments during the media session before the game.
Kuzma told reporters that he enjoyed playing with superstar teammate LeBron James in Los Angeles, stating:
"For me, I wouldn't want it any other way. I want people to talk about me, good or bad, because if you're not, you're not doing something right. I'd rather be talked about bad in L.A., than play in Orlando and not get talked about."
Kuzma was rumored to be in trade talks with the New Orleans Pelicans before the NBA trade deadline, and after Friday's performance, likely will be asked about by teams in the offseason as well. Kuzma is averaging 19.1 points and 5.6 rebounds in 53 games this season.
Atlanta's Trae Young finished with 25 points and 10 assists, Sacramento's De'Aaron Fox had 15 assists and Utah's Donovan Mitchell added 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
Everyone looked happy afterward.
The U.S. squad had a bit more reason to look that way.
"There's a $25,000 bonus for winning the game," Kuzma said. "So that's good."
Philadelphia's Ben Simmons led the World team with 28 points on 14 for 17s hooting. Chicago's Lauri Markkanen had 21 points for the World squad, and Dallas' Luka Doncic had 13 points and nine assists.
Both teams shot 55 percent. The difference was on 3s — the U.S. was 21 for 51, while the World was 16 for 52.
The mood from the outset was predictably light, even including the pregame speeches from U.S. coach Kyrie Irving of the Boston Celtics and World coach Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks.
"I want us to share the ball and not one guy dribble it 20 times and hoist something up — like Luka does with the Mavs," Nowitzki said, laughing a bit at his own joke.
Irving's message was succinct.
"Just have some fun," Irving said. "It's OK to compete."
Doncic talked Phoenix's DeAndre Ayton out of taking the opening tap for the World team, with the young Mavs star jumping against Fox instead of having either center handle the honors. Young was throwing an alley-oop lob to Atlanta teammate John Collins for a 360-degree dunk in one possession, then crossing over Josh Okogie in almost comical fashion on the next.
"We gotta play some defense," Mitchell implored teammates at one point.
It was unclear if anyone ever actually listened to his plea.
There was one foul called in the entire first half, Markkanen getting whistled for it with 4:13 remaining until halftime. The first half saw 25 dunks and 20 3-pointers in 20 minutes — the sides played 10-minute quarters. Late in the half, Collins flashed a crossover dribble, then underhand-tossed a pass off the backboard to himself for a dunk that had players on both sides reacting in mock disbelief.
This was the fifth year of the U.S. vs. World format; the World now leads the all-time series, 3-2.
All 10 players on the World team hailed from a different nation, and four different continents were represented. And eight of the players in this year's game were also in last year's event — Mitchell, Collins, Tatum, Kuzma and Fox for the U.S.; Markkanen, Simmons and 2018 game MVP Bogdan Bogdanovic were repeaters for the World side.
Nowitzki and the World coaching staff from the Denver Nuggets largely stayed seated the whole game, while Irving worked the sideline like an actual NBA coach would — even running time-outs, working alongside the Milwaukee Bucks' staff. Brooklyn's D'Angelo Russell, Phoenix's Devin Booker and San Antonio's Danny Green were at the game, and Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns was courtside in a World jersey to represent for his Okogie, his Timberwolves teammate.
A pregame moment of silence was held immediately before the Canadian and U.S. national anthems in honor of the victims of the shooting in the Chicago suburb of Aurora, Illinois earlier Friday.