The first two quarterfinalists for the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament were determined on Tuesday, as the Pacers‘ win over Atlanta and the Lakers‘ blowout of Utah ensured that both clubs will advance to the knockout round of the tournament.
Indiana, the winner of East Group A, is 3-0 in round robin play and holds the tiebreaker over the 2-1 Cavaliers due to their head-to-head record. Cleveland remains in the hunt for the East’s wild card spot.
As for the Lakers, they’ve played their full round robin slate in West Group A and won all four games, with a +74 point differential. The club has secured home court advantage for the quarterfinals and is in strong position to claim the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed.
Only two other undefeated teams are left in the West and those two clubs – the Kings and Timberwolves – will have to face each other this Friday. If either Sacramento or Minnesota finishes with a 4-0 record in group play, point differential would be the tiebreaker to determine seeding — the two clubs are only +16 and +10, respectively, through two games and would probably need a pair of blowout victories to pass the Lakers.
By making the quarterfinals, the Pacers and Lakers have clinched per-player bonuses worth at least $50K. The value of those bonuses would increase to $100K if they advance to the semifinals, $200K if they make the final, and $500K if they win the entire tournament. The Lakers haven’t been shy about referring to that prize money as a motivating factor, as Dave McMenamin of ESPN notes.
“It’s not a run-of-the-mill regular-season game,” Lakers head coach Darvin Ham said after Tuesday’s win. “They’re well aware. That purse is pretty attractive. … Guys like money. … Not like it, they love it. That incentive right there — it’s huge.”
Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton and head coach Rick Carlisle said this week that they appreciate the fact that the in-season tournament has given a young club – which hasn’t made the playoffs since 2020 – a chance to compete in meaningful games.
The Pistons, Wizards, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, and Spurs have been eliminated from quarterfinal contention, but every other team technically remains alive. The full in-season tournament standings can be found here.