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Gregory Alcala

Gregory Alcala

2015 NBA Rising Stars Challenge; World Defeats USA, 121-112

Timberwolves' Andrew Wiggins Reps the World; Scores 22 Points and Shows Why He is an NBA Rising Star

It's Friday night. The 2015 NBA Sprint Celebrity All-Star game with all of its wackiness is over. Now we're on to a real game, with real players, the 2015 BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge, aka the Rookie Challenge.

The BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge is an exhibition game featuring the youngest and brightest stars the NBA has to offer, with its participants revolving around 1st and 2nd year players making an immediate impact in the association.

The NBA Rookie Challenge's Ever Changing Format

The year 1994 was the NBA Rookie Challenge's inaugural year. The format changed in 1996 where the rookies of both the east and west conferences matched up against each other. Due to the lockout of 1999, the rookie challenge saw another modification to its structure, as the rookies (first-year players) would challenge the sophomores (second-year players) for bragging rights.

From 2012-14, TNT game-time analysts and former NBA superstars, Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley played the General Manager role. They selected players for each of their respective teams of first and second year players, playing a college style of two halves, modifying the format once again.

For 2015, the format was tweaked a little. The NBA rookies and sophomores, by selection, were split up based on their nationality, creating a USA vs. World matchup.

The World Conquers The NBA Rising Stars Challenge

On display, was the best of the U.S. against the best the World has to offer, and unfortunately for the red, white and blue, the World prevailed.

Andrew Wiggins, a Toronto native and representing Canada, was awarded the MVP, leading his fellow foreigners to a 121-112 win.

The United States usually dominates everyone else in basketball, but on Friday, Wiggins and Co. changed that.

Wiggins scored a team-high 22 points doing most of his damage from inside, using his size and athleticism to execute a series of breakaway dunks without any challengers. Wiggins' Minnesota Timberwolves teammate, Zach LaVine, who represented the U.S., also scored 22 points.

Defense isn't a priority in an exhibition of the players deemed as the "Next" in the NBA. So, Wiggins wasn't the only player from the World squad to show off.

Rudy Gobert of France, a player with the Utah Jazz, showed why he can be a dominant front-court player in the Western conference for years to come. He contributed a double-double in 18 points and 12 rebounds.

And, Brooklyn's own, Bojan Bogdanovic, hailing from Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, also played well on a court he knows all too well, connecting on 3 of 7 three's, finishing with 16 points.

For the U.S., LaVine, Trey Burke (Utah Jazz) and Victor Oladipo (Orlando Magic) are the names to remember, scoring 22, 17, and 22, respectively.

And the other player representing Brooklyn like Bogdanovic, Mason Plumlee, chipped in with 13 points.

The NBA Rising Stars Showcase Their Skills

Mason along with, LaVine, Oladipo and Giannis Antetokounmpo, who all suited up for the U.S. vs. World game, also competed in Saturday's dunk contest. Between the four players, LaVine gave New York and all the celebrities in town a taste of what was to come on Saturday night.

Aside from his perimeter game, LaVine executed three dunks that defined why he was selected to compete in the final event of the Saturday night festivities.

In the first half with 9:26 remaining, LaVine went the length of the floor avoiding the defense and penetrated the lane, and finished with authority, drifting to his left.

And you know what followed; the crowd voiced its appreciation in "OOOOHS" and "AHHHHHS".

That's what this game is for, the highlight reel.

It's also meant for the NBA to showcase a collection of talent that could possess the next great group of stars to carry the NBA in the near future.

And in the result, although you can't read too much into the pick-up game, it shows how far the world has come, as far as basketball talent is concerned.

The last two first overall picks are not U.S. citizens, as both call Canada home, and one in particular received MVP honors for his performance Friday night.

"We competed, we entertained the people watching and the most important thing is we all had fun doing it," said Wiggins during his post-game press-conference.

The NBA is banking that Wiggins can entertain as a member of the NBA for the next 10 years and he along with quite a few others that played alongside him Friday are expected to do so.

If Milwaukee Bucks F Jabari Parker, the no.2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft was healthy, he would have guarded Wiggins tonight.

The Future is Bright for NBA Rising Stars

The public believes Antetokounmpo (Bucks) is destined for stardom.

Oladipo, Elfrid Payton (Orlando Magic), Dante Exum (Utah Jazz) and LaVine all have talent too, which is what makes this game so intriguing.

No one can project the careers of the players who suited up for this exhibition game. But for now, their immediate career success in the NBA is what got them this far.

Over time, they will have to take it to the next level.

"I think it was the best move for me," said Wiggins post-game referring to being moved as a no.1 pick from a contender to a rebuilding organization.

"It gave me more room, and put me in a position where I would have to grow up faster. There I would've been more of a role player, here I'm getting more time to shine and do what I was put in this league to do, and I am enjoying the process," Wiggins continued.

At least he is aware.

West Wins 2015 NBA All-Star Celebrity Game

Kevin Hart Picks up his 4th MVP Award Despite Being on the Losing Team; and Paralympic star Blake Leeper Makes History

The NBA All-Star extravaganza has something for everybody. The week started with NBA House, several days of community outreach and fan-interaction programs in Brooklyn and Manhattan. However, the 2015 NBA Sprint Celebrity All-Star Game did as it has done since its inaugural in 2003, kicked off the weekend's events with glitz and glam.

It's an exhibition game featuring celebrities and past/current NBA/WNBA players, some more notable than others, depending on your pop culture knowledge.

This year's cast was no different. I am knowledgeable about pop culture thanks to social media. However, even I did not know a handful of the celebrities who selected to suit up.

East and West 2015 NBA Celebrity All-Star Breakdown

Each team, East and West, provided a unique blend of celebrities and basketball stars.

For the West squad, WNBA Star Skylar Diggins and NBA Hall of Famer Chris Mullin provided the actual basketball talent.

And rounding out the celebrity roster were: actors Nick Cannon, Jesse Williams, Ansel Elgort, Anthony Anderson, and Sarah Silverman, Little League sensation Mo'ne Davis, musician Win Butler, and Memphis Grizzlies owner, Robert Pera.

The East squad actually provided more basketball talent in former Knicks guard Allan Houston, New York Liberty forward Tina Charles and Atlanta Dream guard Shoni Schimmel.

And then your celebs in rapper and actor Common; director Michael Rapaport; comedian Kevin Hart; actor Chadwick Boseman; Paralympic star Blake Leeper; NBA reporter Kristen Ledlow; and Bollywood star Abhishek Bachchan.

As for the coaches, Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony; filmmaker and no.1 New York Knicks fan, Spike Lee; ESPN Radio's Mike and Mike hosts Mike Golic and Mike Greenberg; and NBA Cares Ambassador Isaiah Austin coached both teams.

You would think that the East Celebrities would have the advantage, boasting three basketball professionals to the West's two, but in the end, the West, led by Mullin and Diggins, complimented by Pera, proved to be the difference. The West beat the East 59-51.

Diggins finished with 13 points and 4 assists while Mullin scored eight, displaying the perimeter game that made him a household name, connecting on 2 threes.

With the defensive priorities targeted at Diggins and Mullins, Pera was able to raise some eyebrows, silently shooting 5 of 6 from the field along with Butler, who found the rim on countless occasions, chipping in with eight points.

Mo'ne Davis Schools Comedian Kevin Hart; but Hart Stands Out with the Crowd

With all that being said, there was one celebrity that stood out from the pack, and the argument could be made that even though Elgort brought a significant number of adoring teens to MSG, Kevin Hart is as must-see TV as anyone these days.

Other than being one of the best Comedians in the world, Kevin Hart, prior to Friday's celebrity contest, was already a 3-time MVP, sharing his 2014 MVP award with United States Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan in last year's game.

It was evident Hart was going for his fourth, but had the tall task of doing so against Little League star Mo'ne Davis.

Davis became a household name last summer becoming the first girl to pitch a win and a shut-out in Little League post-season history, but prefers basketball as her primary sport. Currently an 8th grader, Davis plays varsity basketball for the Springside Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia, PA.

At 5'4, Davis, all of 14 years-old, matches the 35 year-old Hart in height. Davis took Hart to school going around him with a beautiful crossover spin move finishing with a lay-up that drew plenty of oohs and aaahs to go along with the high fives. As great a move as it was, Davis was unable to prevent her fellow PA native from securing his fourth Celebrity MVP award.

Mone-Davis-takes-Kevin-Hart-to-school-with-spin-move 2015-NBA-Celebrity-Game Photo-Credit Brad Barket Getty ImagesLittle League Legend Mo'ne Davis putting a spin move on comedia Kevin Hart at 2015 NBA All-Star Sprint Celebrity Game. Photo Credit: Brad Barket/Getty Images

Was Davis upset?

"Coaches just told me to play up on him," Davis said following the game. "It was all in fun, no hate or anything just a good time."

Hart stole the crowd with his comedic personality and basketball skills, going 5 of 12 from the field for 15 points enabling him to get the NBA Celebrity All-Star MVP award.

"You can't hate Kevin; he is the show," said Allan Houston post-game. "The good thing is he can play and I think that's what makes it fun."

And how can you?

In the first quarter alone, Hart received 2-shots for trying to post-up Davis and flopped, falling on the court to sell the foul from a 14-year old girl.

Kevin Hart Remembers Stuart Scott

For all of Hart's 24-hour comedic personality, during his post-game speech at half-court as he was honored with his fourth Celebrity MVP award, he took the time to acknowledge the late ESPN sportscaster, Stuart Scott, who died from cancer on January 4th. Scott's daughters were in attendance.

Scott loved the celebrity game and it was fitting that Hart, along with the ESPN cast, acknowledged Scott's daughters during the game and after.

Good Job.

Kevin Hart Channels Kobe Bryant and LeBron James

Hart also stated he is retiring, from basketball that is. Hart stated that he will not compete in future NBA Celebrity All-Star games due to the fact that, as he says, "Can do no more."

"It's Kobe, Lebron, Me, it's all the greats," said Hart during his MVP acceptance speech.

And it is great.

Since 2012, Hart has owned the Celebrity All-Star game. He furthered his brand in comedy and pop-culture and provided us with some solid basketball and laughs.

It will be tough to replace this Celebrity All-Star game legend, but I'm pretty sure the NBA will figure it out.

Shoni Schimmel Flies Under the Radar

As for the game itself, the performance that seemed to go un-noticed was Atlanta Dream's Shoni Schimmel.

Schimmel danced her way around the court, creating space with her dribbling prowess for 17 points, even matching up with Diggins at times.

It was not the challenges that the WNBA offers, but still an impressive outing for one of the WNBA's youngest stars.

Blake Leeper Makes NBA History

And the biggest contribution of all came from Paralympic star Blake Leeper.

With a resume that contains silver and bronze medals at the 2012 Paralympic games in London, among other accomplishments as a competitor for the United States in track and Field, Leeper became the first disabled and double-amputee to ever participate in the NBA Celebrity All-Star game.

That's big. That's how you make an impact.

NBA House: NBA All-Star Weekend’s Best Kept Secret

NBA House treats fans to an experience of interactive activities, video highlights, prizes, and half-court basketball

As much as the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend, this year in New York City, revolves around a collection of the elite basketball talents the NBA has to offer, NBA House, which began on Tuesday February 10th and runs through Saturday, February 15, takes a different approach.

NBA House is pretty much the NBA's answer to what a Dave & Buster's would look like if the NBA remixed its format for a day.

And that's what it was: a basketball party.

Held at the Skylight at Moynihan Station across from Madison Square Garden in Manhattan and LIU Brooklyn's Paramount Theatre, there was NBA basketball everywhere.

In the two available rooms of fun, the second and largest room featured half-court basketball courts where fans could shoot-around and receive basketball tips from instructors.

Flat-screen televisions were positioned on the walls and pillars around the room, displaying NBA content from this season and past highlights of NBA All-Star Weekend.

PlayStation offered several video game demo kiosks, where fans could compete against one-another in the latest installment of the bestselling NBA basketball simulation in NBA 2K15, on the next gen system, PlayStation 4.

Panini America Inc., specializes in exclusive memorabilia of all the major sports leagues including the NBA, featured its best signed NBA products, such as Jerseys and shoes autographed by Cleveland Cavaliers guard Kyrie Irving and Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant.

State Farm, another NBA partner, took fan photos and offered a basketball skills station. PlayStation, provided fans with the NBA 2K15 demos, in which they judged all participants in their total assists.

Samsung displayed its technological prowess with some of its latest gadgets. The technology and electronics giant gave visitors an opportunity to test drive its Samsung's Gear VR virtual reality headset.

And if that wasn't enough, NBA legends Horace Grant and Muggsy Bogues interacted with the game's youngest fans, by helping kids find the answers to many of the games they played in front of an audience.

NBA-legend-Horace-Grant-interacting-with-fans-at-NBA-HouseNBA legend Horace Grant interacting with fans at NBA House. Photo Credit: Gregory Alcala/ What's The 411 Networks

Muggsy-Bogues NBA House-Moynihan-Station 265x514Former NBA player Muggsy Bogues. Photo Credit: Gregory Alcala/What's The 411 Networks

The entry space featured Kia, the NBA's official car. KIA Motors exhibited some of its finest automobiles alongside, another NBA partner Sprite, which gave fans the opportunity to enter a music recording booth and freestyle over pre-selected instrumentals. I must admit it was very tempting once I heard the beat.

Although the NBA House is not the primary reason why fans love the annual NBA All-Star weekend, it prevailed in treating basketball fans to a great hands-on and sensory NBA experience.

"This event showcases a little of everything of the NBA" said Sheri Simonson, a marketing Manager at Panini America inc. to WhatsThe411TV.

"It gives everyone a hands-on experience, and it also educates everyone on the NBA, the league and its players, and its All-Stars," Simonson added.

But wait, there's more.

"This event is awesome," said David Porter also a representative of Panini America Inc. "It brings people out to showcase the NBA's best talent once a year, there's lots of events and energetic participation but it also shows all of the people behind the scenes and what they do."

So basically, what she said.

Brooklyn Nets Beat Lowly New York Knicks as Expected

Jarrett Jack's Stealth Three-Pointer Helps Net Win 92-88

In the initial year of the brand new Barclays Center of downtown Brooklyn, NY, when the New York Knicks visited the Brooklyn Nets, it meant something.

It was 2012, and the Nets opened their brand new home-arena, completing the transition from the Izod Center in East Rutherford New Jersey to the pressured and prestigious grounds of the city.

Both teams were competitive and every Nets-Knicks game gave fans an excuse to choose their side, creating exciting environments, whether it was Madison Square Garden or Barclays Center.

It's 2015 and times have changed.

The Knicks are no longer the Atlantic Division champs and tonight the Nets reminded them how far they have fallen.

As ice covers our sidewalks creating dangerous walking conditions, New York had no trouble packing into Barclays tonight to witness the Nets defeat the Knicks, 92-88.

This win, increased the Nets winning streak to three, improving to (21-28) on the season as the Knicks, who showed fight, fell to (10-40).

30 games under .500, I know.

At least that's not the Nets who are in the midst of turning their season around, heading in the right direction for a change, after a horrendous month of January.

In the first month of the New Year, the Nets lost 12 of their scheduled 15 games, which included losing streaks of seven and four.

February, the month of love, is proving to be much kinder to the Nets as they have won the first three games of the month, including thrilling wins over NBA powerhouses in the Los Angeles Clippers (102-100) and the Toronto Raptors (109-93).

"The last three games have been great," said Deron Williams, according to ESPNNY.com.

"Three wins in a row. Tonight it was another where things didn't go right for us, but down the stretch we found ways to win."

If Williams is referring to "things didn't go right for us" as far as this game is concerned, then he must be questioning why his teammates only beat one of the worst teams in the league by four points.

Right now, the Nets are in the playoff race, occupying the 8th and final spot and in order to solidify their status as a playoff team or attempt to move up in the standings, the Nets have to be better than just four points against lottery teams,

All in all, they won this game, despite losing their grip on early leads and making the significant plays late in the final quarter to pull off an expected victory.

In the first half, the Nets enjoyed comfortable leads of 10 and 17 behind the strong play of Brook Lopez, who scored 14 of his team-high 22 points in the first half.

As for the Knicks, Carmelo Anthony, with help from Lou Amundson, Jason Smith and Lance Thomas, would score nine of his team high 21 points in the last 4 min of the second quarter, battling back from a deficit of 17, entering the halftime period down by eight, 45-53.

I mentioned before that the Nets made the significant plays in the final period to achieve the victory and here they are:

With 1:38 remaining, and the Nets up by a slim 1-point lead, 87-86, Lopez, as he feasted all night from the painted area, connected on a 9-foot floater assisted by Jarrett Jack, to give the Nets a little breathing room, up three-87 to 84.

And here's the dagger.

Jack, courtesy of horrible Knicks defense and an assist by Joe Johnson, stood at the arc of the three-point line, all by his lonesome and connected from deep, giving the Nets the final say, up by four, 90-86, with 13 seconds remaining until the end of regulation.

Anthony couldn't dig the Knicks out of this hole, nor could the triangle offense.

The Nets did what they were supposed to do and that is the only praise that counts.

"This is big for us to close out the first half, especially before All-Star break, going into it on a positive note knowing that we start out from the West Coast right after the break," Joe Johnson said post-game, via ESPNNY.com

Every win is big, especially when you take care of your business at home as the superior to your opponent.

Four players in double-figures for the Nets in Lopez, Jack (20 points), Johnson (13 points), and Garnett (12 points) is big.

Brooklyn-Nets-players Brook-Lopez Joe-Johnson Kevin-Garnett 750x250

Brooklyn Nets center, Brook Lopez; shooting guard Joe Johnson; and forward, Kevin Garnett

Lopez, albeit coming off the bench receiving starting minutes (33 min tonight) and Williams seeing some action, returning from ailments this season and contributing to the Nets cause is also big.

In the Nets three wins this month, Lopez and Williams have provided stability from two of the most important positions on the court, with Lopez and Williams, both reaching double-figures in wins against the Los Angeles Clippers, Toronto Raptors and tonight against the Knicks (Lopez: 24 points vs. LAC, 22 vs. Knicks, Williams: 15 points vs LAC, 11 Raptors).

It might not be what Nets management expected from this team, with how they envisioned Williams and Lopez as the primary pillars of success, but this format is working (Williams and Lopez-role players) and head coach Lionel Hollins would be foolish to remove Jack and Mason Plumlee from the starting lineup as they have earned their current roles.

The Nets will look to improve their streak against the Washington Wizards tonight, and hopefully, if the opportunity presents itself, against the Milwaukee Bucks, Memphis Grizzlies, Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets over their next five games (including All-Star Weekend).

A three game-winning streak could prevent Nets management from blowing up Brooklyn basketball, looking forward to the future in rebuilding.

In February, it appears the Nets are not interested in that plan.

For the moment, the playoffs are actually a possibility.

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