The NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament final will take place on Saturday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, as the veteran Lakers take on the upstart Pacers for the right to hold the NBA Cup — and to earn championship bonuses worth $500K per player.
The Lakers may have the home-court advantage, given Los Angeles’ proximity to Vegas and the franchise’s huge fan base, but the Pacers have earned plenty of fans of their own in recent weeks with their fast-paced, high-scoring style of play. And they’ll enter the game as the lovable underdogs looking to knock off another highly star-studded opponent after defeating Boston in the quarterfinal and Milwaukee in the semifinal.
The Pacers’ 123.5 offensive rating is easily the NBA’s best mark, as is their pace (104.13 possessions per game). Tyrese Haliburton, who is submitting an MVP-caliber season thus far, leads the attack with 26.9 points and an NBA-best 12.1 assists per game, but the Pacers have no shortage of offensive options, with six other players averaging double-digit points per night (a seventh, Jalen Smith, won’t be available on Saturday).
They’ll be going up against one of the NBA’s stoutest defenses — the Lakers’ 110.3 defensive rating is tied for sixth-best in the league. Los Angeles also holds a significant edge in big-game experience. While Haliburton and several other Pacers have never played in the postseason, LeBron James alone has 282 playoff games on his résumé.
Of course, Saturday’s game isn’t a playoff contest, and Haliburton and the Pacers certainly haven’t shied away from the spotlight so far in the in-season tournament, having talked repeatedly about how they’re embracing the rare opportunity to play for a national audience.
Both teams have taken the tournament seriously so far and that doesn’t figure to change on Saturday, with $300K on the line (the runners-up will go home with bonuses worth $200K rather than $500K).
We want to know what you think. Are you taking the Pacers or the Lakers to win the first NBA Cup?
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