NBA

Zion, Morant & Doncic - The NBA prodigies set to light up the Rising Stars Challenge

By Sports Desk February 12, 2020
Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Trae Young are all set to feature in the Rising Stars Challenge Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Trae Young are all set to feature in the Rising Stars Challenge

Much of the focus at the All-Star Game will be on the headline event and the Slam Dunk Contest, but the Rising Stars Challenge also offers great intrigue.

Zion Williamson, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic and Trae Young will all be involved as Team USA take on Team World.

With the early success that quartet have enjoyed in their fledgling careers, the Rising Stars Challenge should serve as further compelling evidence the future of the NBA is in good hands.

Here we guide you through what to watch for when the league's brightest talents do battle.

 

ZION & JA TEAM UP

Williamson and Morant appear poised to contest a fascinating rivalry over the course of their careers, but on Friday they will be on the same side.

Number one overall pick Williamson, sidelined for much of the year with a knee injury, and Rookie of the Year favourite Morant went head-to-head two weeks ago and offered a glimpse into the future as Zion's New Orleans Pelicans beat the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Rising Stars Challenge will provide a window into how the pair's talents complement each other, which could potentially be crucial for future USA Olympic coaches.

With Morant set for a prestigious honour and Williamson having recorded two double-doubles in eight games, Team World will have a hard time slowing them down.

 

DONCIC DOUBLES UP

Likely to finish high in the MVP voting, Doncic will - along with Young - double up at All-Star weekend.

The Dallas Mavericks guard will contest the All-Star Game as well as the Rising Stars Challenge, having been picked as a starter for Team LeBron.

With the odds in favour of Team USA winning the Rising Stars Challenge, Doncic's best chance of success in Chicago should be in the headline event.


UNDER-THE-RADAR STARS

While Williamson, Morant and Doncic will claim most of the attention among the rising stars, there are several less heralded players with the chance to snatch some of the limelight.

Jaren Jackson Jr. and Canadian Brandon Clarke will face off having played an instrumental role in the Grizzlies' rise to playoff contention.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander should be crucial to Team World's hopes, his development unhindered by a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers to the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder.

Eric Paschall's opportunities to shine on a national stage have been limited thanks to the demise of the Golden State Warriors this season, but the forward will have the chance to prove he is the Dubs' latest second-round gem.

 

YOUNG TRIBUTE TO KOBE

Proceedings at the United Center are set to be dominated by tributes to Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, who were killed in a helicopter crash last month.

In the wake of their tragic passing, an emotional Young - having been mentored by Bryant - scored 45 points in the Atlanta Hawks' win over the Washington Wizards.

With two games on his agenda, Young will have ample opportunity to honour his idol by delivering on the court in his first appearance at the weekend as an All-Star.

Related items

  • Wilder v Fury II: Five fights at the MGM Grand that shook the boxing world Wilder v Fury II: Five fights at the MGM Grand that shook the boxing world

    Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder fought out a thriller in Los Angeles 14 months ago and the second instalment of a planned trilogy will be battled out in Las Vegas on Saturday night.

    The WBC heavyweight belt goes on the line at the MGM Grand, which long ago jumped ahead of Caesars Palace as the hottest spot to see elite fighters pull on the gloves in America's gambling capital.

    Within the vast urban sprawl of the hotel and casino's grounds sits the Garden Arena, where legends have been made and demolished.

    Neither Fury nor Wilder is a stranger to the MGM Grand boxing ring, but neither man has had a career-defining fight there yet.

    Fury versus Wilder II could be a classic. Their stunning draw in LA leaves all to fight for.

    Here is a look at five of the most dramatic and memorable blockbuster showdowns in the 26-year history of the big-fight coliseum.

    5. George Foreman beat Michael Moorer, KO, November 1994

    Before he became a grill pan hype man, Foreman was frying rivals in the ring.

    The veteran rolled back the years on one of the MGM Grand's first big bills, after fighting for permission to even step into the ring. With the 45-year-old having not had a bout in almost 18 months, the WBA initially refused to sanction the contest, but Foreman went through the courts to get the go-ahead, and it was worth the effort.

    The man who lost to Muhammad Ali in 1974's Rumble In The Jungle caused a seismic stir in Sin City with this 10th-round knockout victory, landing the WBA and IBF heavyweight titles as he became the division's oldest-ever champion. He had been outboxed for much of the fight, but Foreman found his punching power when it mattered.

    4. Juan Manuel Marquez beat Manny Pacquiao, KO, December 2012

    This was the final stanza in a Vegas quadrilogy for Marquez and Pacquiao, with a draw and two Pacquiao points victories in their previous clashes setting up another slice of MGM Grand history.

    Amusingly, their second fight had been dubbed 'Unfinished Business', so the promoters needed to ramp up the anticipation for this one, pre-emptively titling it 'Fight of the Decade'.

    It went a long way towards living up to that billing, earning Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year gong after Mexican Marquez turned the tables on his Filipino rival, driving a brutal right hand into Pacquiao's jaw in the dying seconds of the sixth round.

    The fight-defining shot from the 39-year-old capped a sensational contest in which both men had been in trouble, and down went Pacquiao with a thud to the canvas.

    Promoter Bob Arum suggested they go at it again in a fifth fight, but that never materialised. Marquez retired as a five-time world champion, his titles coming across four weights.

    This was not a title fight, but the punch that collapsed Pacquiao forms a huge part of the Marquez legacy.

    3. Floyd Mayweather beat Oscar De La Hoya, split points decision, May 2007

    Anticipation for this light middleweight barnstormer reached fever pitch in the United States, where almost 2.5million households signed up for $55-a-throw pay-per-view television coverage, a record number.

    Broadcaster HBO produced a four-episode mini-series building up to fight night, and there was also the saga of which corner Mayweather's father, Floyd Mayweather Sr, would be in, given their estrangement and his availability as a top-level trainer.

    The answer was ostensibly neither corner in the end. Mayweather Sr reportedly priced himself out of a role with De La Hoya, and Mayweather was primed for the showdown by his uncle, Roger Mayweather.

    The hype machine was pumping out hyperbole by the time the fight began, and the fact it turned out to provide huge entertainment was testament to the focus of both fighters.

    Mayweather was given 116-112 and 115-113 verdicts, with De La Hoya 115-113 on the other, and the winner's verdict that it was "easy work for me" flew in the face of abundant evidence.

    Floyd Mayweather Sr, showing not a jot of family loyalty, surmised that De La Hoya would have deserved the win.

    2. Frankie Randall beat Julio Cesar Chavez, split points decision, January 1994

    It was opening night at the Garden Arena, six weeks after doors to the MGM Grand hotel swung open for the first time.

    The WBC super lightweight belt was on the line, Don King was the promoter pulling the strings, and for its outrageous shock factor, Randall's victory over Chavez that night ranks as one of the venue's greatest triumphs.

    Chavez had been described months earlier by Sports Illustrated as "the world's greatest fighter", and he headed into this bout with 89 wins and one draw from 90 professional encounters.

    Randall dominated the early stages but was pegged back by Chavez, only for low blows from the Mexican to result in two points being deducted by referee Richard Steele - the telling factor.

    Chavez would have won a split points decision, rather than lost that way as he did, had he not been penalised, and later said he was "very upset" with Steele.

    A bizarre rematch went Chavez's way. In a highly unusual outcome, an eight-round split decision favoured Chavez when an accidental headbutt from champion Randall left the challenger unable to continue.

    1. Evander Holyfield beat Mike Tyson, TKO, November 1996; Holyfield beats Tyson, by disqualification, June 1997

    Tyson effectively set up camp at the MGM Grand in the second half of the 1990s, having spent a large chunk of the first half behind bars after a rape conviction. He and promoter King landed a mega-money six-fight deal with the venue, after Tyson's comeback began there with a first-round win, by disqualification, over Peter McNeeley in August 1995.

    A March 1996 dust-up with Britain's Frank Bruno was a major money-spinner, but nothing touched the prospect of a long-awaited collision with Evander Holyfield for commercial potential.

    Holyfield and Tyson had been due to clash at Caesars Palace in November 1991, but a rib injury suffered by Tyson, followed by his incarceration, put paid to that.

    Their 1996 showdown was billed as 'Finally', and the first fight – though now often overlooked because of what followed – was a monumental contest in heavyweight history, Tyson succumbing to just the second defeat of his professional career.

    It featured thudding head collisions and the sight of Tyson being outboxed by the underdog until enough was enough for referee Mitch Halpern, who stepped in to stop the fight in the 11th round.

    Halpern was kept busy that night but was prevented from officiating the rematch seven months later after a complaint from the Tyson camp, with Mills Lane stepping in at late notice.

    It was to prove extraordinary, as Tyson bit both of Holyfield's ears during clinches in round three, spitting out a chunk of cartilage onto the canvas at one stage before outrageously claiming a punch had caused the injury.

    Lane said it was a "b******t" explanation and disqualified Tyson, who was banned indefinitely. After a year, 'Iron Mike' had his licence back, but his glory days were over, those bites now more famous than any punch he ever threw.

    What happens in Vegas no longer stays in Vegas. Instead, it is beamed around the world, with Fury and Wilder next under the spotlight.

  • Wilder v Fury II: Joshua, Tyson, Foreman and other experts predict the fight Wilder v Fury II: Joshua, Tyson, Foreman and other experts predict the fight

    The world of boxing will come to a standstill this weekend when Deontay Wilder faces Tyson Fury in an eagerly anticipated rematch at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

    It has been 14 months since two of boxing's most eccentric characters fought to a contentious draw for Wilder's WBC heavyweight world title.

    Predictions have been rolling in from pundits, fans and fellow boxers alike prior to Saturday's blockbuster clash.

    Here we take a look at how the biggest names in the sport see the bout panning out.

     

    Former heavyweight champion George Foreman – I pick Tyson Fury on points

    "It's going to be good for boxing. I love it. I pick Tyson Fury to win on points," he told bookies.com "Millions will watch it, and it'll probably be a controversial decision. That Deontay Wilder can punch. Oh, he can hit, and he can hit hard. I think they're going to tear the wall down there because that rematch will be seen by a lot of people."

    Anthony Joshua, the IBF, WBA and WBO world champion – Tyson Fury has more to his arsenal

    "He [Fury] has more to his arsenal so that's why I'm leaning to him. Fury can punch a bit," 'AJ' said to Sky Sports. "He's underestimated with his punching power which makes him dangerous. If you underestimate someone it makes them dangerous because you don't respect them until you get hit."

    Wladimir Klitschko – I wish, believe it or not, Fury might make it

    "Either Wilder is going to knock out Fury or Fury is going to win on points," Klitschko, dethroned as heavyweight champion by Fury in 2015, told The National. "Personally, I respect Wilder a lot – he was in my training camp, we spent rounds in the ring. As many knockouts as he has, you’ve probably no one else, in current times, any heavyweights, including me. I think, or I wish, that actually Fury, believe it or not, might make it."

    Ex-world champion 'Iron' Mike Tyson – I'm rooting for Tyson Fury 

    "I always root for him because he was named after me. That’s the natural thing to do, right? I'm biased towards him," the ex-heavyweight champ told BT Sport. "I don't care how hard you punch, it's hard to beat somebody who doesn't wanna quit."

    Heavyweight contender Luis Ortiz – Deontay Wilder by knockout

    "Tyson Fury and Wilder are two different fighters, but I don't think Wilder will respect him in the rematch, and I see the outcome by a knockout victory," Ortiz said after being floored by Wilder in their own rematch in November.

    Former heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield – At any one time Deontay Wilder can get you with one shot

    "Now it's which guy is going to fight his fight like this. I think at any given time, Deontay can get you out with one shot," Holyfield told Fight Hub TV. "Tyson Fury, it's going to take him a lot of shots to get you out. He ain't gonna get you out with one. It's gonna take a lot of shots to get you out. So I think it’s going to be a little bit more difficult for him."

    Three-time world champion Lennox Lewis – Right now, Deontay's looking good

    "I think it's gonna be an unbelievable fight, the boxer against the puncher," Lewis told Boxing Social. No predictions. I would have to say, right now, Deontay's looking good."

    Shelley Finkel, Wilder's manager – This time they will do the count correctly

    "This time the count will be done correctly and you will see Deontay’s hand raised and they will announce he is still heavyweight champion, by knockout," Finkel said in quotes reported by Max Boxing.

    Frank Warren, Fury's promoter – Tyson will have all the answers

    "At the end of the day, Tyson got up twice from those knockdowns [in the first fight]," Warren told talkSPORT. "So he showed what he was made of and I just feel Tyson is a complete boxer. He can box, he can punch, he can be southpaw, he can be orthodox and he's a very smart guy. And I think he will have all the answers for him this time."

  • Joel Embiid: I'm proving I'm the best in the world Joel Embiid: I'm proving I'm the best in the world

    Joel Embiid feels his current run of form, including a 22-point display in the NBA All-Star Game, has proven he is the best player in the world.

    Big man Embiid is often maligned despite averaging 23.3 points and 12 rebounds per game this season, with his highly-talented Philadelphia 76ers an underwhelming fifth in the Eastern Conference.

    But the 25-year-old has had a big hand in Sixers wins either side of the All-Star break.

    Embiid tallied 26 points and nine rebounds as he starred alongside Ben Simmons in a defeat of the Los Angeles Clippers, while a brilliant 39-point, 16-rebound return lifted Philadelphia to an overtime victory over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, extending their winning run to four games.

    In between those two performances, Embiid also managed 22 points and 10 rebounds for Team Giannis as he took on the best the Western Conference had to offer.

    It was this display in the All-Star Game that Embiid felt secured his place as the league's elite performer.

    "The All-Star game was fun, being there in the fourth quarter doing my thing at the end of the game," he said after seeing off the Nets, who will miss Kyrie Irving for the remainder of the season.

    "The game against the Clippers was a good starting spot, but the All-Star game was just proving that I'm here, I belong, being the best player in the world.

    "And I just intend to keep coming out every single night and playing hard, just going out and trying to win a championship."

    Embiid will have the opportunity to back up his claim on Saturday when the Sixers take on conference leaders the Milwaukee Bucks and All-Star captain Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is on course for a second straight MVP award.

    "We beat them pretty bad in the first matchup [121-109 in December], they got us the last one [112-101 earlier this month]," Embiid said. "So, it's on us to go out there and try to beat them again."

© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.