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NBA-All Star Weekend-Friday night and the party can start with the Rising Stars Challenge

The International team looks weak. I won’t go full Dan Dakich and claim to not trust Kristaps Porzingis’ eyes, but the team appears to be cooked without Joel Embiid and Emmanuel Mudiay available. Besides losing the 76ers star, by far the NBA’s most talented rookie, they lost their most talented point guard and hope Utah’s Dante Exum, Denver’s Jamal Murray and OKC’s Alex Abrines can hold down the backcourt alongside streaky Buddy Hield, who will be the fan favorite as a member of the Pelicans.

Mudiay had 30 points and 10 assists for Team World last year, so they’ll vastly miss his exprience. They can play through 7-footers Nikola Jokic, Porzingins and Trey Lyles and have talented hustlers like Dario Saric, Donats Sabonis and Willy Hernangomez to chase rebounds and keep possessions alive, but the American team looks vastly superior. D’Angelo Russell will be at the controls next to Devin Booker, giving the U.S. a huge advantage in the backcourt.

Karl-Anthony Towns will be the best player on the floor and my pick for MVP here, and he’ll have a versatile talented big to play off of with Myles Turner, Frank Kaminsky and Marquese Chriss available. When not on the floor, the U.S. can play through Jahlil Okafor. No. 2 pick Brandon Ingram has had a quiet rookie season for the Lakers, but can have a big night here, benefiting from being out there with an extremely talented group in addition to his ability to run the floor.

Porzingis also scored 30 last year and wil be tough to deal with, while Jokic has been playing fantastic for Denver, seeing the floor like a point guard, so be prepared to see those two go off. However, they’re leading the group as two of only four sophomores who have participated in this even, joining the Jazz tandem of Exum and Lyles. Of Team USA’s 10 players, there are only three rookies, Ingram, Chriss and Milwaukee’s Malcolm Brogdon.

The WestgateLV Superbook opened with Team USA as 5.5-point favorites, a number that has been trimmed some and is available at 4-to-4.5 at other shops. The total was originally set at 287 and has since climbed to 296. Last year’s final score of 157-154 suggests that this number has been set too low, but if it’s less competitive, the teams may struggle to threaten 300. I love the American team here and recommend laying the points with a lean to the over for a total play.

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