Two teams remain in the hunt for the NBA Cup in Las Vegas. The Los Angeles Lakers are a betting favorite when they meet the high-scoring Indiana Pacers in the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament championship on Saturday.
Indiana Pacers point guard Tyrese Haliburton drives by Milwaukee Bucks guard Malik Beasley in the semifinal game of the NBA In-Season Tournament at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. (Image: Getty)
On Tuesday, the Lakers squeaked by the Phoenix Suns in a controversial win in the quarterfinals. The Lakers then demolished the New Orleans Pelicans with a 44-point defeat in the semifinals Thursday night in Las Vegas.
The Pacers are the surprise team of the In-Season Tournament, with two upset victories against two top teams from the Eastern Conference. They picked off the Boston Celtics in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Then, on Thursday night, the Pacers knocked out the consensus favorite Milwaukee Bucks in the semifinals.
We’re a disruptor, a lot of people didn’t want us here,” said Pacers head coach Rick Carlisle. “We didn’t care about that. We earned our way here, we earned our way to three additional national TV games. So people are gonna find out about the Pacers and who we are and how we play.”
Oddsmakers installed the Lakers as a -4 favorite in the championship game. The points total is 241 over/under. The In-Season Tournament finale is at 5:30 p.m. local time at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas and will be televised on ABC.
One Win Away
LeBron James bypassed college and went directly from high school into the NBA. He never had a chance to play in a high-stakes, single-elimination tournament like March Madness, where you go home if you lose. The In-Season Tournament is filling that void.
It’s pretty cool in that regard,” James said. “Every game counts. I love it.”
James is averaging 25 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 6.6 assists per game this season while shooting 40.7% from 3-point range. James averaged 30.5 points, 9.5 assists, and 6.5 rebounds per game during the two knockout-stage games. He’s also knocked down 75% of his 3-point attempts.
The Lakers will have their hands whole trying to slow down the Pacers, who lead the NBA with 128.4 points per game. If the Pacers can maintain that pace for the remainder of the season, they’ll set a new record as the highest-scoring team in NBA history.
We are starting to get a feel for what we need to become a team for us to win basketball games, to be consistent,” James added. “When we defend, we give ourselves a chance to win every night.”
The Lakers held opponents to 96 points per game since the quarterfinals began.
James is the favorite to win the In-Season Tournament MVP at -145 odds.
Tyrese Haliburton Breakout Star
If you don’t live in Indiana, it’s rare to see point guard Tyrese Haliburton on TV. Thanks to the In-Season Tournament, fans finally get a chance to enjoy the thrilling Haliburton and frenetic Pacers.
The Sacramento Kings selected Haliburton with the #12 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft after he played two seasons at Iowa State. He earned a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Team in his first season in the league.
In the middle of the 2021-22 season, the Kings traded Haliburton and Buddy Hield to the Pacers in exchange for big man Domantas Sabonis. Haliburton demonstrated flashes of brilliance in the final 26 games of the season when he averaged 17.5 points per game with the Pacers.
Haliburton averaged 20.7 points and 10.4 assists last season and was named an NBA All-Star.
This season, Haliburton averages a career-high 26.9 points per game and leads the NBA in assists with 12.1 per game.
Haliburton hasn’t committed a single turnover and has been shooting 40% from a 3-point range in the In-Season Tournament since the knockout stage began on Tuesday. He tallied the first triple-double of his career in a 10-point victory against the Celtics in the quarterfinals with 26 points, 13 assists, and ten rebounds. He scored 27 points and dished 15 assists in a nine-point win against the Bucks on Thursday night.
“We’re playing the right way and we’re shocking the world right now,” said Haliburton. “We’re going to continue to do that.”
Haliburton has a +115 odds to win the MVP of the In-Season Tournament. Even if the Pacers lose in the final against the Lakers, Haliburton could still be in contention for the MVP with his stellar play.
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