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Jamal Murray leads World over U.S. in Rising Stars Challenge

By
Peter Finney Jr., The Sports Xchange
Denver Nuggets rookie guard Jamal Murray. (NBA/Instagram)
Denver Nuggets rookie guard Jamal Murray. (NBA/Instagram)

NEW ORLEANS -- Denver Nuggets rookie guard Jamal Murray grew up in Canada, so he knows all about the importance of heat and combustible fuel.

On Friday night at the Rising Stars Challenge, the rookie guard from Kentucky went on a heat check, scoring 27 of his game-high 36 points in the second half, including three consecutive 3-pointers within a 30-second span inside the final three minutes, to seal the World team's 150-141 victory over the U.S.

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"I wouldn't say 'out of my mind,' (but) I was feeling it," said Murray, who has averaged 8.9 points a game this season for the Nuggets on 39.3 percent shooting. "I was just playing within the game and not trying to force it. I was just playing."

The Rising Stars Challenge pits first- and second-year players from the United States against their counterparts from around the world. The World has won two of the three matchups since the squads were divided that way.

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Murray said he simply got into the flow in the defense-optional game.

"You never know when I'm going to go off," Murray said. "A couple of shots, I got too excited. I was just playing. Guys were telling me to shoot it; fans were telling me to shoot it. That feels great for your confidence. I wasn't second-guessing. I was just taking heat checks."

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The international team also was led by New Orleans Pelicans rookie guard Buddy Hield, a native of the Bahamas selected just ahead of Murray in the 2016 draft, who had 28 points, and by Knicks center Kristaps Porzingis, a native of Latvia, who added 24 points and 10 rebounds.

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Hield said he loved performing well in front of New Orleans fans.

"Oh, it was a lot of fun," Hield said. "It means a lot to play in New Orleans. Everybody is embracing it, embracing the vibe, and I just tried to go out there and give the fans something good to watch."

Hield said once Murray caught fire, everyone on the World team decided to give him the ball.

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"When the guy is hot, you can't stop him being hot," Hield said. "You can't be selfish and say, 'I want to show him up.' He got hot, man. This wasn't my time. He deserved it."

Charlotte Hornets second-year center Frank Kaminsky led the U.S. squad with 33 points - including 23 in the second half -- and Minnesota's second-year center Karl-Anthony Towns had 24 points and 11 rebounds.

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The World scored at will in the first half, building a 77-66 lead behind 19 points from Hield and 18 from Porzingis. The international squad made 34 of 55 from the floor (61.8 percent).

"Jamal Murray hit some great shots," said Towns, who also played at Kentucky. "When you have a person hitting threes like that from anywhere, they can get back in the game very quickly."

Jonathon Simmons led the U.S. team with 12 points in the first half, and Towns and Kaminsky had 10 each. The Americans shot a slightly lower percentage (55.6 percent), but this was a decidedly loose affair as both teams combined for only four free-throw attempts in the first 20 minutes.

NBA assistant coaches selected the 10-man rosters, selecting four guards, four frontcourt players and two players at either position group. They were required to select a minimum of three first-year and three second-year players for each team.

Injured World players Joel Embiid of the 76ers and Emmanuel Mudiay of the Nuggets were replaced by Alex Abrines of Oklahoma City and Willy Hernangomez of the Knicks.

There were a record 113 international players on opening-night rosters for the 2016-17 season. This is the third consecutive season the NBA has had at least 100 international players and the third straight year each of the NBA's 30 teams had at least one foreign-born player.

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The 291 combined points fell short of last year's all-time scoring record for the Rising Stars Challenge of 311 points (a 157-154 U.S. victory).

NOTES: A few, quick scouting observations from the annual All-Star Celebrity Game, won by the Jason Williams-led East squad 90-57: Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, playing for the West, may have to run some extra gassers after giving up a pair of baseline layups. ... Brazilian Olympic hero Oscar Schmidt, at 59 the oldest player on the court and a bit heavier than his listed 225 pounds, made both of his mid-range jumpers, showing his shooting touch was still intact. But Schmidt rarely ventured past halfcourt, preferring to play goalie. ... Marc Lasry, the billionaire tri-owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, scored nine points for the East. He is listed as either 55 or 56 years old, take your pick. ... Jarrius "Little J.J." Robertson, a 14-year-old New Orleans native whose serious liver ailments have stunted his growth, came into the game in the final two minutes and made a 5-foot bank shot for the West.

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