Unless you want to count the Celebrity Game, the first actual bout of basketball on NBA All-Star Weekend is the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas.
Set to tip at 9 p.m. ET on TNT (and also available on ESPN Radio), the Rising Stars Challenge is now formatted to mix rookies and sophomores on opposing rosters selected by Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley, respective general managers of #teamShaq and #teamChuck.
The Rising Stars Challenge usually competes admirably with the actual All-Star game for the lowest overall level of defensive intensity, though this certainly can make for entertaining basketball, or, at the least, plenty of highlights. Last year, Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving was a shiny 8-for-8 from three-point range, dropping 34 points altogether, in a 146-133 win for Team Chuck in what was the first time the drafting format was used in creating the rosters.
Both rosters feature the explosive blend of playmaking guards and springy forwards, which should make what is almost guaranteed to be a run-and-shoot contest all the better from a maximum-fun standpoint.
Representing Team Chuck this year are the following NBA up-and-comers: Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal, Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Hornets, Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried, San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson, Orlando Magic forward Nikola Vucevic, Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Knight, Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas and Minnesota Timberwolves guards Ricky Rubio and Alexey Shved. Barkley's squad will be coached by Spurs lead assistant coach Mike Budenholzer.
Beal is averaging 13.2 points per game, shooting 39.3 percent from the field, in 31 minutes per night in his first season with the Wizards. He scored a season-high 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting in a 102-90 Washington win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday.
Team Shaq looks like this: Cleveland's Irving is joined by teammates Tyler Zeller and Dion Waiters, Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, Magic forward Andrew Nicholson, Houston Rockets swingman Chandler Parsons, Golden State Warriors teammates Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes as well as Charlotte Bobcats teammates Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Pistons center Andre Drummond was also selected to the squad, but will not play due to a stress fracture in his back suffered in early February. O'Neal's team is headed by Miami Heat lead assistant coach David Fizdale.