Of the eight teams which qualified for the knockout portion of the NBA's inaugural In-Season Tournament, two squads outside of the top-three as oddsmaker's favorites now find themselves set to battle for the first NBA Cup.
The Indiana Pacers (initially +1400) will square off with the Los Angeles Lakers (initially +550) at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 9. Indiana upset both the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks to get to this point, while Los Angeles knocked off the Phoenix Suns and dominated the New Orleans Pelicans to represent the Western Conference.
🏆 THE CHAMPIONSHIP IS SET 🏆— NBA (@NBA) December 8, 2023
One game to decide who wins the #NBACup!
The Pacers and Lakers will meet in the first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament Championship Saturday at 8:30pm/et on ABC! pic.twitter.com/qMfkX9WPrN
|Indiana Pacers||+4 (-110)||+160||O 240 (-110)|
|Los Angeles Lakers||-4 (-110)||-190||U 240 (-110)|
Pick: Indiana Pacers
Call it destiny. Call it a hunch. Call it jumping on the bandwagon before it's full. Whatever this is, it feels like something special is happening with the Pacers.
The underdog status suits them perfectly. They've been undervalued and underestimated throughout the tournament. Basketball purists knew how prolific and flat-out fun their offense is, but their 28th-ranked defense continues to be their Achilles heel. Thankfully, what's already a dominant offense has improved even more so to 127.4 points per 100 possessions across six tournament games, compensating for a defense which still poses problems.
Blowing out the Pelicans by 45 points has the Lakers in the driver's seat and deservedly so. LeBron James has been on an absolute tear and playing historically-insane basketball at 39 years of age, while Anthony Davis has been a steady, double-double hand as the No. 2. James' legacy is already established, but adding "first-ever NBA Cup winner" to his stacked resume is something we all know he'd love to do.
The last two meetings between the Pacers and Lakers were a coin flip, with both games determined by a single point each, so it's not much to go off of. The darling Pacers have defied logic and the odds to get to this point, and even going up against the almighty LeBron, if one team is going to suffer both its first and last loss of the tournament, it just doesn't feel like it will be the young upstarts out of Indiana.
Most Valuable Player Odds
|LeBron James||Los Angeles Lakers||-140|
|Tyrese Haliburton||Indiana Pacers||+125|
|Anthony Davis||Los Angeles Lakers||+1400|
|Austin Reaves||Los Angeles Lakers||+5000|
|Myles Turner||Indiana Pacers||+7500|
|D'Angelo Russell||Los Angeles Lakers||+9000|
Pick: Tyrese Haliburton
This race essentially comes down to either Haliburton or James, with all other players feeling like a formality of oddsmaking.
Depending on which way you're leaning for the overall winner, that's where your MVP pick should fall. It's highly unlikely that the losing side will produce the MVP, considering how narrow the margins are between the aforementioned names.
Haliburton has produced averages of 27.8 points on 51.8% shooting from the field and 44.6% from behind the arc to go along with 13.7 assists, 5.5 rebounds, and just 1.8 turnovers across 36.7 minutes. His tournament has further cemented him as an elite upper-tier point guard in the Association, if that wasn't already painfully obvious.
This hardware would simply be the cherry on top, and validation of what we have all come to realize.
How does the NBA In-Season Tournament work?
All 30 teams were split into six equal groups — three from the East and three from the West.
Following four group games for each team, eight of the 30 teams advanced to the knockout rounds. The round robin format now transitions over into a single-elimination tournament with the top seeds battling the lower "wild-card" teams. The knockout-round slate will begin with the quarterfinals (Dec. 4 - Dec. 5), and then the semifinals and finals in Las Vegas.
All 67 games across both stages of the in-season tournament will count toward the regular-season standings sans the championship game.
What is the prize for winning the NBA in-season tournament?
Players on the champion team will each receive $500,000; runners-up will get $200,000. The players on the two losing teams in the semifinals will each get $100,000, and the players on the four losing teams in the quarterfinals will each get $50,000.
The NBA will also name the Most Valuable Player of the competition and the All-Tournament Team. Selection will be based on the players’ performance in group play and the knockout rounds.