D'Angelo Russell Rising Stars
D'Angelo Russell handles the ball for the USA Team at the 2016 Rising Stars Challenge.
(Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images)

Clarkson, Russell Fuel USA's Rising Stars Victory

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

TORONTO — The Lakers' "Backcourt of the Future" shined brightly at the shootout known as the Rising Stars Challenge, albeit against admittedly nonchalant defense.

Jordan Clarkson poured in 25 points, while D'Angelo Russell reached 22 points and seven assists in just 16 minutes to help their USA Team defeat the World Team, 157-154, in a battle of the league's top rookies and sophomores.

After the game, Russell — who shot 9-of-15 — highlighted the personal importance of using the game as a springboard to higher honors in the future.

"The task is sticking and being the cream of the crop of one of those guys," Russell said. "I can speak for myself on that; just trying to stay one of the top young guys in the league or get there. (But) 'top young guys' doesn't really mean anything. The main event (All-Star Game) is where everybody wants to be. So I'm just trying to get to that point."

Despite the game consisting of 20-minute halves instead of the standard 12-minute quarters, both sides combined to hit the century mark three times, as the Lakers' duo came out firing from the start.

Clarkson immediately knocked down four 3-pointers for a dozen points in the first four minutes, while Russell reached 13 points and all of his assists in only nine minutes of first-half action. The pair combined to tally their total of nine triples before halftime.

Though the young Lakers never shared the floor together, they each took turns pushing USA closer to a win. When both teams started locking down defensively in the final minutes, the World Team brought a once 13-point lead down to three with 49.3 seconds left, but Clarkson sunk each of his four free throw attempts the rest of the way to ice it.

"I feel like that game is more of a confidence builder," Russell said. "It's not something you (can) really get too high or too low on. If you didn't really play very well, it doesn't really mean to much.

"So knowing that, the real games in the season are totally different. There's no 150-point games in the real season, so that says a lot about defense, honestly."

Defense — and often even slight obstruction — was a rarity in a game in which the World Team still managed to shoot 60.4 percent in a losing effort. Still, Clarkson pulled some opportunistic pass-jumping by coming away with a game-best four steals.

Despite Clarkson and Russell's performances, their USA teammate — Zach LaVine of the Minnesota Timberwolves — took MVP honors with 30 points on a 13-of-20 clip.

Meanwhile, the World Team received strong showings from Denver's Emmanuel Mudiay (30 points, 10 assists) and New York's Kristaps Porzingis (30 points).

But LaVine's Minnesota teammate, Canadian Andrew Wiggins, was the one who received the wildest cheers from the Air Canada Centre crowd, as the reigning Rookie of the Year finished with 29 points by missing only two of his 15 shots.

"He's like the biggest star in Toronto," Clarkson quipped with Wiggins joining him and Russell for postgame interviews. "So being here on the podium with him — I'm kind of starstruck right now."

Despite losing, the World Team scored 100 points in the paint. ... An announced crowd of 18,298 was on hand to watch the NBA's best young talent, as voted by the league's assistant coaches. ... Clarkson still has one more competition left, as he will put his all-around game to the test in the Skills Challenge at All-Star Saturday Night. He faces C.J. McCollum to begin the three-round knockout tournament.

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