HOUSTON -- It didn't require a savvy basketball mind to concede the advantage in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge to Shaquille O'Neal, whose deft maneuvering on draft night yielded the reigning Rookie of the Year, Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving, and the runaway favorite to claim that award this season, Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard.
All-star exhibitions typically favor backcourt wizardry, and at first blush that Irving-Lillard tandem armed O'Neal with enough ammunition to seemingly subdue his rival general manager, Charles Barkley, with ease.
Then the forwards and centers representing Team Chuck arrived and turned the tables on conventional wisdom.
With Kenneth Faried, Kawhi Leonard, Tristan Thompson and Nikola Vucevic fronting a dominating performance in the paint, Team Chuck ran roughshod over Team Shaq, rolling to a 163-135 victory to kick off NBA All-Star Weekend on Friday night at Toyota Center. Faried, the Nuggets' indefatigable second-year power forward, scored 19 of his 40 points in a runaway first half to earn MVP honors. Faried amassed a variety of dunks along with a surprising 3-pointer to help stake Team Chuck to its 90-66 halftime lead. And when Faried wasn't assaulting the rim, Leonard, Thomson and Vucevic filled in ably.
"I came out with the intent to put on a performance," Faried said. "But I wasn't thinking MVP type of performance. I was just thinking about winning the game and enjoying myself. And pretty much enjoying the game. I love to play."
Thompson and Vucevic, second-year big men representing the Cavaliers and the Magic, respectively, combined to score 35 points on 15-for-18 shooting. Leonard, the Spurs' multifaceted albeit overlooked small forward, displayed the all-around skills, posting 20 points, seven rebounds and three assists.
"Every big that was in the game, they really run the floor well on their teams," said Lillard, who had 18 points and five assists. "They came out here and did it in this game.
"Kenneth Faried was up and down the court faster than everybody, chasing down rebounds and dunking. That's what he does for Denver, so I wasn't surprised."
Irving, who claimed MVP honors for Team Chuck after producing 34 points last season, managed 32 points, six rebounds and six assists while igniting the crowd late in the second half with a wondrous dribbling display against Pistons second-year guard Brandon Knight.
"That kind of rivalry with me and B. Knight has been happening since high school, since we started playing against each other," Irving said. "We were battling for the one and two spot in high school. He's a good friend of mine; it's great competition."
Kings second-year guard Isaiah Thomas chipped in a double-double of 18 points and 10 assists for Team Chuck while Cavaliers rookie guard Dion Waiters scored 23 points on a sizzling 11-for-12 shooting effort.
Faried, set to participate in the Sprite Slam Dunk contest on Saturday night, added 10 rebounds. He shared game-high honors with Thompson.
"It's usually guard heavy," Thompson said. "So when we were coming in we had to get stops in the paint, especially with so many bigs. It feels good to get a win."