LOS ANGELES—Kris Dunn wanted to have some fun in the Rising Stars game while Lauri Markkanen wanted to get a win.
Both accomplished their goals, being on opposite sides for the first time as the best first and second year players were divided into U.S. and International teams, with the World Team winning 155-124 Friday night at Staples Center.
It wasn’t set up for either Dunn or Markkanen to truly stand out considering the presence of Lakers and Celtics players who were more notable and flashy, along with the spectacular exploits of rookies Donovan Mitchell (Utah) and Dennis Smith Jr (Denver).
Those two certainly wowed the crowd at times with half-court alley-oop passes, giving a preview of what Saturday night will look like, considering both will be in the dunk contest.
Dunn scored nine points in 18 minutes while Markkanen scored 15 in 22 minutes. Both came off the bench, ceding to the likes of Sacramento’s Buddy Hield (29 points) and Bogdan Bogdanovic, who turned the game into his own 3-point showcase with 30-foot bombs, hitting seven triples for 26 points off the bench.
Boston’s Jaylen Brown led all scorers with 35 points and 10 rebounds, playing for the U.S. team, showing his entire bag of tricks with spectacular dunks and dribble moves for jumpers.
Markkanen had his moments in the “game within a game” category. When prompted by World coach Rex Kalamian that the first player to get a block would get $100, Markkanen tipped the next shot at the rim and pointed to the scorer’s table, but wasn’t credited with the block.
However, he felt like he got his pound of flesh with Dunn on a tip-dunk. The two didn’t have their moment
“I almost jumped over his head. That counts,” he joked.
Dunn made sure that although he and Markkanen were on opposite sides that he remained Markkanen’s biggest fan.
When asked who was his pick for rookie of the year, he repeatedly said “Lauri Markkanen”, over the likes of Mitchell and Kyle Kuzma from the Lakers, another standout rookie.
His reasoning was simple.
“Why? He hit eight threes in Madison Square Garden,” Dunn said, half-jokingly.
“For Lauri to be a rookie and have so much confidence in himself and to play in big time games, especially at Madison Square Garden. I’m gonna keep bringing that game up. Because He had eight three’s. You don’t see that too mnay times. Lauri is a big player for us,” Dunn said.
Markkanen probably won’t win the award but to see Dunn so steadfastly support his teammate in this way is a good sign for a budding relationship, despite the light moments of competitiveness where Dunn said he wanted to take advantage of Markkanen on the perimeter.
Markkanen’s game has been aided by Dunn on the floor and one could see how the quality of looks Markkanen had in the past few weeks suffered with Dunn out due to a concussion.
Dunn’s turnaround directly led to the Bulls turning around their season in December, and he remembers what he was doing this time last year at the All-Star break when he wasn’t selected to be part of the rookie challenge.
“Thibs had me in the gym,” Dunn said.
It seemed unlikely but he’s rebounded nicely, being a shoo-in for 15 points, eight assists and two steals on a nightly basis. Turning the corner has been a bright spot in the season.
“I wouldn’t say a specific game but each and every game I started to get more comfortable, not with myself but with my team,” Dunn said. “Being a point guard, you gotta build that chemistry with your teammates and try to figure out where everybody needs the ball. How you can be aggressive and lead at the same time.”