The NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament has concluded its group stage, setting the stage for exciting knockout matchups. The Indiana Pacers will host the Boston Celtics, and the New Orleans Pelicans will face the Sacramento Kings on Monday. Tuesday’s matchups feature the New York Knicks against the Milwaukee Bucks and the Phoenix Suns taking on the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Kings secured their spot by winning West Group C in a thrilling game against the Warriors, earning a showdown with the Pelicans, who emerged as the West Group B winners after the Rockets’ loss to the Mavericks. In the East, the Bucks sealed a 4-0 run through East Group B, setting up a clash with the Knicks, who are seeking revenge for their earlier tournament loss to Milwaukee.
The Pacers, winners of East Group A, will host the Celtics in a matchup with a history of lopsided scores. Despite the Celtics’ dominant regular-season victory over the Pacers, the latter now enjoys home-court advantage based on their superior group play point-differential.
As the group stage concludes, three major takeaways emerge:
- Perfect Tournament Field: The NBA has hit the jackpot with its knockout stage field. The Lakers and Knicks, representing two of the league’s biggest markets, are among the final eight teams. The Celtics add historical significance, and young talents like Tyrese Haliburton and Zion Williamson bring fresh faces to the forefront. The remaining teams boast former MVPs and All-NBA players, making this a perfect mix for the league.
- Point-Differential as a Tiebreaker: While point-differential is widely acknowledged as a reliable measure of team quality, its role as a tiebreaker in the tournament has sparked debate. The confusion surrounding scoring margins and players’ reluctance to run up scores raise questions about its effectiveness. The league, open-minded about the tournament’s format, may explore alternative solutions.
- No Clear Favorite: The knockout stage presents a remarkably balanced field, with no clear favorite. The Pacers, Knicks, and Pelicans may have exploitable weaknesses, but they boast winning records and All-Star talent. The Celtics, Bucks, and Kings face tough competition, making it challenging to predict an outright winner. As the tournament moves to Las Vegas, Western Conference teams may have a slight advantage in terms of travel and fan support.
The absence of an obvious favorite adds an element of unpredictability to the tournament, reminiscent of this season’s NBA championship field. In a single-elimination format, any team could emerge victorious, heightening the excitement as the tournament progresses.