Editor's Note: Pacers.com's Wheat Hotchkiss is in Los Angeles for NBA All-Star Weekend. Each day, he'll be chronicling the Pacers' contingent at All-Star Weekend with a running blog from L.A.
Second-year Pacers forward and the World team dominated Friday's Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game in Los Angeles, rolling to a 155-124 victory at the Staples Center.
The 21-year-old Lithuanian — who leads the Pacers with 12 double-doubles this season — recorded another on Friday, finishing with 13 points on 6-of-6 shooting, 11 rebounds, and three assists in 18 minutes.
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"It was fun," Sabonis said. "We just went out and most importantly, we got the win. It was a great time."
Pacers All-Star guard Victor Oladipo was there to cheer on his teammate, sitting just a few feet away from the World bench in a Sabonis World team jersey. The jersey was a surprise to Sabonis, who marveled at his friend's ingenuity.
"I have no idea," Sabonis said with a laugh when asked about it after the game. "I don't know how he got that because I only got one jersey...I guess he has connections."
Sabonis came off the bench on Friday, playing the second half of the first quarter. Even in an exhibition game, the tough-nosed Pacers center couldn't resist mixing it up a little bit.
Early into his stint on the floor, Sabonis chased down an offensive rebound, then drove to the hoop and drew the game's first foul of the night. He finished the quarter with four points on 2-of-2 shooting, four rebounds, and an assist.
Sabonis put together another strong performance to close the second quarter, throwing down a couple of dunks. He made all four of his shots in the first half and headed into the break with eight points, eight boards, and two assists.
After checking back in the third quarter, Sabonis quickly grabbed three rebounds and needed just one more basket to get his double-double. That bucket came on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 2:30 left in the frame, making the Pacers forward the first player on either team to accomplish the feat.
With Sacramento Kings swingmen Buddy Hield (the game MVP with 29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic (26 points) leading the way, the World team dominated all night. The international squad led by 21 at halftime, 30 after the third quarter, and cruised to an easy victory.
Celtics guard Jaylen Brown led all the Americans with 35 points and 10 rebounds in the loss.
Sabonis spent the fourth quarter on the bench joking with Oladipo, who he said offered him popcorn at one point, and Pacers trainers Josh Corbeil and Carl Eaton, who were the trainers for the World team. Pacers center Myles Turner was also in attendance to cheer on his teammate.
It was the second Rising Stars victory for Sabonis in as many as years. He represented the Oklahoma City Thunder as a rookie last season, when the World squad bested Turner and Team USA.
"Two for two," Sabonis quipped after Friday's victory.
Sabonis plans to stay in Los Angeles for the rest of the weekend. He will return the favor to Oladipo by attending both the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday night and the All-Star Game on Sunday.
"I'm the number one Vic fan from here on out," Sabonis said. "He better win the Slam Dunk Contest and he better put on a show for the All-Star Game."
Sabonis Takes Center Stage at All-Star Friday
Posted on Feb. 16 at 3:30 PM ET
All-Star Weekend is officially underway in Los Angeles and Friday is all about second-year Pacers center Domantas Sabonis. The 21-year-old Lithuanian took the court this morning at the Verizon Up Arena at the Los Angeles Convention Center for practice with the World Team in preparation for tonight's Mtn Dew Kickstart Rising Stars game (9:00 PM ET on TNT).
It was familiar territory for Sabonis, who also participated in the game last season as a rookie for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
For Friday's practice, Sabonis and his World teammates (headlined by the Philadelphia 76ers trio of Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Ben Simmons) took the floor for a lighthearted practice. Their coaching staff (the assistants from the Toronto Raptors) led them through a few offensive sets and shooting drills before the team split up for a halfcourt shooting contest.
Sabonis seemed at ease throughout the proceedings, joking with his international teammates and smiling throughout the day.
It wasn't too long ago that he was a young boy in Lithuania, staying up until 4:00 in the morning with his parents and brothers to watch the All-Star Game and dreaming that he would one day be part of All-Star Weekend. Now he has become a fixture at the league's biggest showcase.
"I'm just excited to be here to represent the Indiana Pacers and Lithuania, my home country," Sabonis said. "It's going to be a fun weekend."
Sabonis saw plenty of familiar faces on Friday. Team trainers Josh Corbeil and Carl Eaton made the trip to Los Angeles this year and were on the sidelines for Sabonis' practice. Sabonis even did a brief in-arena interview with Pacers emcee Kurt Streblow, who was selected by the NBA as one of the All-Star Weekend emcees.
Then after practice, Sabonis and his World teammates headed over to Jr. NBA Day, where they helped lead more than 1,500 youth from the greater Los Angeles area in basketball drills. Sabonis was joined there by his Pacers teammate Victor Oladipo, who will take part in the Slam Dunk Contest on Saturday and play in his first All-Star Game on Sunday.
Sabonis helped kids work on their post moves, while Oladipo led another group through running drills and played a brief game of one-on-one with Demarjay Smith, a young motivational speaker and trainer who frequently appears on "Ellen."
Oladipo and Sabonis share a special bond, having spent a year in Oklahoma City together and then both coming to the Pacers in the trade for Paul George last summer. They affectionately refer to each other as brothers and are particularly excited to both be a part of this year's All-Star festivities.
"It's very fun, just being on this trip together," Sabonis said. "I just saw him out there on the court (at Jr. NBA Day). Having my brother here makes it a lot easier. We're going to see a lot of each other during this weekend."
But Oladipo and Sabonis aren't the only Pacers players in Los Angeles this weekend. Several of their teammates made the trip to Los Angeles to watch and support them.
"I know Myles (Turner) is here, TJ Leaf is here, Alex Poythress," Sabonis said. "Just having them all here to watch us is awesome. That just shows how connected we are as a group."
After Jr. NBA Day, Sabonis spoke with media from across the globe in a 20-minute session. Though he grew up in Lithuania, Sabonis is fluent in both English and Spanish and answered questions in both of those languages throughout the session, transitioning seamlessly between the two.
Though the questions ranged across a wide variety of topics, many of them focused on the surprising success of the Pacers. Though they were essentially a unanimous pick to miss the playoffs after trading away George, the Pacers enter the All-Star break with a 33-25 record, good for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
"I think it's the group of guys we have," Sabonis said. "We're a family. We come out every night playing really hard and trying to win games. That shows. No matter if we're down or the game's not going our way, we keep fighting."
Sabonis' individual numbers have also improved drastically across the board in his first season in Indiana. After averaging 5.9 points and 3.6 rebounds on 39.9 percent shooting as rookie, the 6-11 center is averaging 12.1 points and 8.2 rebounds on 52.5 percent shooting as a sophomore.
"Last year, I gained a lot of experience as a rookie," Sabonis said. "I played a lot of minutes and I'm just trying to use those minutes and that experience to my advantage this year."
Sabonis also discussed his father, Arvydas, an international legend who played for the Portland Trail Blazers for seven seasons and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011. Domantas told reporters he always idolized his father and "wanted to be just like him," so it's especially rewarding to have carved out his own path to the NBA.
As for tomorrow's Slam Dunk Contest, Sabonis said Oladipo won't reveal any details about his plans for the event.
"I have talked to him, (but) he hasn't said nothing to me," Sabonis said. "We'll see. I think it's going to be a big surprise for everyone.
"I'm expecting a big performance."