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Dante’s dunking a highlight for World team’s victory in Rising Stars Challenge

SHARE Dante’s dunking a highlight for World team’s victory in Rising Stars Challenge

NEW ORLEANS — Maybe they should have included Utah's Dante Exum in Saturday night's Slam Dunk Contest.

Exum isn’t known as a dunker, but after thrilling the Vivint Arena crowd in the most recent Jazz game when he threw down a one-handed slam on Portland’s 6-foot-9 forward Noah Vonleh, Exum is suddenly becoming the dunk king.

The 20-year-old Australian just kept on dunking in Friday night’s Rising Stars Challenge with four first-half dunks in helping the World team to a 150-141 victory at the Smoothie King Center.

This time his dunks were of the two-handed variety and he didn’t posterize anybody, but Exum was happy to be able to throw a few down.

“I’m finally getting a bit of bounce back and it feels good and the knee is feeing fine,” he said. “I’ve been doing it a bit in practice and it was an open rim tonight.”

Unfortunately his long ball wasn’t working as he ended up making just 1 of 5 of his jump shots, including 1 of 4 from long range, but he was happy to finish with 11 points after scoring just four points in the same game two years ago in Brooklyn.

“I settled in pretty quickly,” said Exum, who started the game and played 20 minutes and added four assist. “This one I was super relaxed — shoot, shoot — even if it wasn’t working, which it wasn’t, just putting it up.”

Exum was proud to be on the winning side again after missing last year’s game because of his knee injury.

“It’s great — that’s 2-0 for me in these games,” he said.

Along with Exum, his Utah Jazz teammate Trey Lyles was also a part of the winning World team, which he enjoyed after being on the other end last year in Toronto.

“I had fun, first half I was able to get some shots up and we got the win, so I’m happy about that,” said Lyles, a native of Canada who grew up in Indiana. “I had more fun this year, knowing what to expect. It was great to win.”

Lyles scored all nine of his points in the first half, including a 3-pointer, but only played 14 minutes total. He was happy to see his teammate attack the rim the way he did Friday night.

“It’s good to see him get up there and be athletic like that,” he said.

The one negative for Exum and Lyles is that they didn’t get to play with each other as World coach Mike Brown (Golden State assistant) opted to platoon his 10 players with Exum on the first unit and Lyles the second. Neither played in the final five minutes when the game suddenly got serious.

The game was a showcase for the top first- and second-year players in the NBA, and the young stars showed off an array of lobs, dunks and 3-pointers as little defense was played in the game, much like the All-Star Game.

Both Exum and Lyles acknowledged that little defense was played, especially through the first three quarters of the game.

“There’s not going to be a lot of defense going on so we could be kind of lackadaisical,” said Lyles. “You know we don’t get to do that with coach Quin, but we got to do it tonight.”

Denver’s Jamal Murray was named MVP after leading his team with 36 points, 27 in the second half. Murray heated up down the stretch and finished with 9 of 14 from 3-point range.

Hometown favorite Buddy Hield of New Orleans scored 28 points for the World team, while Kristaps Porzingis of the Knicks scored 24 with 10 rebounds. Other double figure scorers for the World team were Dario Saric (17), Nikola Jokic (12) and Domantas Sabonis (10).

Team USA was led by Charlotte’s Frank Kaminsky, who scored 23 of his team-high 33 points in the second half and made 9 of 13 3-pointers for the game. Karl-Anthony Towns scored 24, while Jonathon Simmons and Devin Booker chipped in 19 and 17, respectively.

The World team led most of the way, taking a 77-66 halftime lead, before Team USA made a run and grabbed the lead midway through the second half. However, thanks to Murray’s hot-shooting, the World team prevailed.

Lyles said he enjoyed playing against several of his former Kentucky teammates, including Booker and Towns. Exum noted that even though he’s a third-year player, he played with many of the players in the game as a junior player.

“For sure, the best thing about this event is just getting to play with guys around the league,” he said. “They’re the same age as me and going through the same things as me.”

Exum, who had several members of the Australian media questioning him after the game, said he is looking forward to sticking around and cheering on his teammate Gordon Hayward in Saturday night’s Skills Challenge and Sunday night’s All-Star Game.

Lyles will be heading up to Indiana where he’ll “kick back with some family and friends” and watch Sunday’s game on TV.