Bucks Rumors

Pacers, Lakers Advance To Tournament Final

The Pacers and Lakers advanced to the final of the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament on Thursday by defeating the Bucks and Pelicans in their respective semifinal matchups.

The championship game between the two undefeated teams (both are 6-0 in the tournament) will be held at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday at 7:30 pm CT. The final will be the lone game of the in-season tournament that does not count towards the regular season schedule.

Indiana’s win over Milwaukee was a back-and-forth affair that came down to the final minutes, with guard Tyrese Haliburton delivering another stellar performance (27 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds, zero turnovers), including clutch baskets to seal the victory. Center Myles Turner also had a strong outing, recording 26 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks.

However, the other semifinal wasn’t competitive, as Los Angeles demolished New Orleans behind a brilliant showing from LeBron James, who finished with 30 points (on 9-of-12 shooting), eight assists, five rebounds and zero turnovers in just 23 minutes. The Lakers wound up winning by 44 points.

Pelicans head coach Willie Green was understandably disappointed in his team’s effort, tweets Will Guillory of The Athletic.

Tonight was a total letdown… A lack of competitive spirit,” Green said. “Tonight, we took a step in the wrong direction.”

Players on standard contracts with the Pacers and Lakers have now secured bonuses worth at least $200K (two-way players will earn half that amount). The champs will earn $500K apiece.

The Bucks and Pelicans, meanwhile, earned bonuses of $100K per player for reaching the semifinals, but have been eliminated from contention for the first NBA Cup.

And-Ones: D. Harper, Harden, Iguodala, NBPA, Pacers/Bucks

Dylan Harper, a five-star recruit who comes in at No. 2 overall in ESPN’s breakdown of the 2024 high school class, announced on Wednesday that he has committed to Rutgers for the 2024/25 college season, per Jeff Borzello and Paul Biancardi of ESPN.

The son of five-time champion Ron Harper and the younger brother of Raptors two-way player Ron Harper Jr., Dylan is behind only Cooper Flagg in ESPN’s rankings of next year’s recruiting class. Flagg has committed to Duke, but Harper – like No. 3 prospect Airious “Ace” Bailey – will join the Scarlet Knights, whom his older brother represented from 2018-22.

“His advice to me was to pick a school that is best for me and make it your decision,” Dylan said of Ron Jr. “I saw what a great player my brother was there and how successful Rutgers was during that time. He had a great career there. He was one of the best to play at Rutgers.”

It’s a historic recruiting class for Rutgers, which typically hasn’t been a basketball powerhouse. As Borzello and Biancardi point out, prior to this year, Rutgers had landed just six total prospects on ESPN’s top-100 lists since 2007, which is when the outlet began maintaining its annual recruiting rankings. Only one of those players – Mike Rosario in 2008 – was considered a top-50 recruit.

Here are a few more odds and ends from around the basketball world:

  • The NBA investigated the Sixers following 2022’s free agent period, looking into whether James Harden‘s pay cut that year came with any quid pro quo assurances, and investigated the team again earlier this year after the star guard called Daryl Morey a “liar.” Will yet another Harden-related investigation be necessary? Over at his Substack, Marc Stein says the comments Harden made to Sam Amick of The Athletic may force the league’s hand. The former MVP made two eyebrow-raising claims in that interview, telling Amick that the 76ers promised him a maximum-salary contract prior to his 2023 free agency and that his representatives met with Rockets head coach Ime Udoka while he was under contract with Philadelphia.
  • Andre Iguodala, who took over for Tamika Tremaglio last month as the NBPA’s acting executive director, is unsure whether or not he’s interested in keeping the position permanently, but he tells Mike Vorkunov of The Athletic that he couldn’t pass on the opportunity to lead the players’ union. “The players thought it was perfect timing, with my career ending, helping them continue to progress, continue to transition and helping out with that,” Iguodala said. “So, it was just a unique opportunity to do that. I’m indebted to the players and servicing the guys, and it was a no-brainer.”
  • The over-under for Thursday’s in-season tournament Eastern semifinal is 257.5 points, the highest total in an NBA game since 1991, according to David Purdum of ESPN. As we detailed earlier today, the Pacers have the NBA’s best offense and the Bucks rank third, so a shootout is anticipated. It’s the seventh game since ’91 with an over/under greater than 250, with four of those games occurring this season, Purdum notes.

Poll: Which Teams Will Win In-Season Tournament Semifinals?

The semifinals of the NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament will be played on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, with the winners advancing to Saturday’s final.

It’s a safe bet the early game will be a shootout. The high-octane Pacers have the NBA’s best offensive rating by a significant margin at 123.6. But they give up plenty of points too — their 120.2 defensive rating ranks 28th in the league, ahead of only Charlotte and Washington.

The Bucks are poised to take advantage of the holes in Indiana’s defense. Milwaukee’s 119.2 offensive rating is the NBA’s third-best mark and the group has been firing on all cylinders as of late, putting up 132 points on Saturday vs. Atlanta and a season-high 146 in Tuesday’s quarterfinal victory over New York.

Tyrese Haliburton has perhaps been the breakout star of the in-season tournament, but he and the Pacers will be underdogs against a Bucks squad led by superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard. BetOnline.ag currently lists Milwaukee as 5.5-point favorites.

Still, Indiana knocked off Boston in the quarterfinals and will perhaps benefit from what should be a neutral crowd in Las Vegas. The Pacers have a winning record away from home this season, while the Bucks are a modest 5-5 on the road.

The Lakers, on the other hand, may have a home-court edge in Thursday’s late game, given Vegas’ proximity to Los Angeles and the franchise’s sizable fan base. But they’re only favored by two points against a Pelicans team that’s as healthy now as it has been in quite some time.

While both Los Angeles and New Orleans have had to deal with injury issues during the first quarter of the 2023/24 season, they’re nearly at full strength heading into Thursday’s semifinal, with only Gabe Vincent expected to be out of action for L.A., while the Pelicans are just missing reserves Larry Nance Jr. and Matt Ryan.

Forwards LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Zion Williamson, and Brandon Ingram – along with guard CJ McCollum – are the headliners in this matchup, and a superstar-type performance from one or two of them could ultimately decide the game, but the Lakers’ and Pelicans’ supporting casts shouldn’t be overlooked. Role players like D’Angelo Russell, Austin Reaves, Rui Hachimura, Herbert Jones, Jonas Valanciunas, and Trey Murphy are capable of being game-changing X-factors.

What do you think? Which two teams will prevail on Thursday and meet in the first-ever in-season tournament final on Saturday?

Central Notes: Bucks, Giannis, LaVine, Wade

Damian Lillard thought the Bucks should have scored more points Tuesday night, but 146 was enough to get past the Knicks and earn a spot in the in-season tournament semifinals, writes Eric Nehm of The Athletic. Milwaukee’s offense was finally clicking the way most league observers expected when Lillard was acquired from Portland. He contributed 28 points and seven assists in the outburst against one of the league’s top-rated defensive teams.

“I thought this was probably our best offensive game (of the season),” Lillard said. “This could have easily been a 160, 165-point game. That doesn’t mean we’re going to turn into a team that does that every night, but I do think we’ve got that type of explosiveness. We can’t depend on having these types of nights all the time, but it’s … a look at the kind of nights we can have offensively sometimes.”

The Bucks set season highs by hitting 23 three-pointers and shooting 60.5% from beyond the arc. It wasn’t just a hot shooting night, as Nehm points out that many of the three-point attempts were wide-open shots that were set up by drives into the lane.

“I know in training camp, we just kept smiling because it was so easy with our spacing and you’re starting to see it now,” Malik Beasley said. “A lot of guys are getting open shots.”

There’s more from the Central Division:

  • Giannis Antetokounmpo sprained his left ankle on a tip-in try early in the game, but he was able to keep playing. He doesn’t seem worried that it might affect his status for the Bucks‘ semifinal game, Nehm tweets. “It feels good,” Antetokounmpo said Wednesday. “Obviously, a little bit sore today, but it is what it is. You get some treatment, you sleep a little bit, ice it, elevate it, hopefully it feels better tomorrow.”
  • There’s no guarantee that Bulls guard Zach LaVine will be traded during the season, K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago states in a mailbag column. Johnson notes that LaVine’s contract makes an in-season deal difficult, and even though the Lakers have shown some interest, he would be a very expensive third option in L.A. Johnson believes the Bulls are “motivated” to move on from LaVine but might have to wait until the offseason unless the offers improve. The front office is “hesitant” to part with Alex Caruso, Johnson adds.
  • Cavaliers forward Dean Wade was cleared to return tonight after missing six games with an injured ankle, tweets Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com. Wade is expected to play in a “limited capacity” off the bench.

In-Season Tournament Notes: Banner, Lakers’ Timeout, Tatum, Ratings

Winning the first in-season tournament will be a historic accomplishment, but is it worth hanging a banner in the rafters? Joe Vardon of The Athletic suggests the answer may depend on which team leaves Las Vegas with the trophy. The Lakers, who already have 17 banners, and the Bucks, who were crowned champions three years ago, may be less likely to hang up a banner than the Pacers or Pelicans, who’ve never won an NBA title.

“I think you’ll see a banner of some sort,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “This is not an insignificant thing at all. … This being the first one is extra special.”

“I think at this point in my career, because I haven’t done anything yet, I’ll take a banner, but certainly Bron (LeBron James) would not answer the same way,” Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton added.

Players and fans have embraced the tournament, but the event is too new to determine how much significance it will carry each year. Cash prizes are helping to fuel the competition — with $500K per player for the winners, $200K for the runners-up and $100K for the other two semifinalists — but Haliburton believes bragging rights are a bigger incentive, with everyone wanting to be part of the first tournament winner in league history.

The Pelicans also recognize how much a tournament title would mean, with coach Willie Green saying he would “absolutely” want a banner if New Orleans wins. Brandon Ingram said the money and a chance at history have inspired the team to work extra hard.

“I think my motivating factor is just seeing my teammates really get ready for these games like this – it’s a different approach,” he said. “You see some of my teammates who don’t get extra shots (after practices) like, locked in an exercise center at the shootaround. This is just like a different deal. I know how bad they want it.”

There’s more on the tournament:

  • The NBA’s last two minute report claims the controversial timeout the Lakers received Tuesday in their win over the Suns was justified, tweets Gerald Bourguet of PHNX Sports. The report cites three mistakes, which were all fouls that should have been called against Phoenix.
  • Celtics star Jayson Tatum is the latest player to criticize the importance given to point differential in breaking ties during group play. Appearing on the Point Forward podcast with Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner, Tatum said he had to play expanded minutes in Boston’s final group game, which was a blowout against Chicago (hat tip to SB Nation). “We was in the game and I was like,” Tatum said, “I remember I tapped, I think it was Torrey Craig. I was like, ‘Yo bro, I don’t really want to be out here right now.’ Cause we were up 30 going into the fourth. If it was a Wednesday I would have been sitting on the bench and the younger guys would have gotten in. It just didn’t feel right.”
  • The quarterfinal matchup between the Lakers and Suns drew 1.97 million viewers, up 89% from games at a similar time last season, according to a tweet from the league.

Tournament’s Final Four Set, Regular Season Schedule Finalized

The Bucks and the Lakers earned quarterfinal victories on Tuesday night, joining the Pacers and Pelicans as the final four teams that will head to Las Vegas to compete for the championship in the NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament.

Milwaukee pulled away from New York in the second half in Tuesday’s early game, with superstars Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard combining for 63 points in the 146-122 victory.

In the late game, the Lakers benefited from a generous timeout call in the closing seconds (Twitter video link) and eked out Phoenix in a 106-103 nail-biter, led by LeBron James‘ 31 points, 11 assists, eight rebounds, and five steals.

The schedule for Thursday’s semifinals at T-Mobile Arena is as follows:

  • Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers (4:00 pm Central time)
  • Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans (8:00 pm CT)

The winners of those semifinal matchups will square off in the in-season tournament final at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday at 7:30 pm CT.

Players on standard contracts with the Bucks, Pacers, Lakers, and Pelicans have now secured bonuses worth at least $100K (two-way players will earn half that amount). A semifinal victory would increase those bonuses to at least $200K, while the champs will earn $500K apiece.

The Celtics, Knicks, Kings, and Suns, meanwhile, will come away with bonuses worth $50K per player for making the knockout round, but won’t get the opportunity to head to Vegas for the tournament’s final stage.

Instead, the Knicks will travel to Boston on Friday, while the Kings will visit Phoenix on the same night. Those newly added regular season contests represent the 82nd game on each team’s schedule. Thursday’s semifinals will also count toward the NBA’s regular season standings, but Saturday’s final won’t, since that will be the 83rd game on those teams’ schedules.

Central Notes: Weaver, Crowder, White, DeMar

The Pistons are currently mired in a league-worst 17-game losing streak. If Detroit isn’t able to somewhat right this ship, even while clearly headed for the lottery this year, general manager Troy Weaver should be fired so a new front office can thrive, opines Shawn Windsor of The Detroit Free Press.

Windsor writes that the Pistons are currently on a 7.5-game win pace for the rest of the season, which would shatter the current record for a full 82-game NBA slate.

Given that the club will have lots of space under the league’s projected salary cap next summer, through which it could add veterans and make significant transactions to improve, Windsor submits that Weaver should not be in a decision-making role with the Pistons at that juncture — barring some kind of growth this year.

There’s more out of the Central Division:

  • Following a November 14 surgery to correct a partial tear in his left adductor, Bucks reserve forward Jae Crowder is on the mend, having resumed individual on-court work within the last week, writes Jim Owczarski of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “When I touched the ball, I was like, ‘All right, I’m getting close,’” Crowder said. The 33-year-old combo forward was a solid two-way contributor for Milwaukee when healthy this year. In his nine healthy games, he’s logging 8.1 PPG on .532/.416/.583 shooting splits, along with 3.9 RPG, 1.7 APG and 0.8 SPG.
  • Bulls starting point guard Coby White is enjoying an excellent start to the season for a struggling 7-14 Chicago club. His willingness to shoot from distance early and often has played a part in the team’s current two-game mini-win streak, writes K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago. The 6’5″ guard is averaging 15.0 PPG on .427/.403/.846 shooting splits, 4.2 APG, 3.1 RPG and 0.9 SPG. He’s connecting on a career-best 40.3% of his career-most 7.1 three-pointers per night.
  • Bulls All-Star small forward DeMar DeRozan seems to be rediscovering the passing game that he developed during his three-year stint with the Spurs, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times. To wit, he notched a season-most 10 dimes during Chicago’s surprise 124-118 win over the Pelicans on Saturday. “Just being unselfish, pushing the pace,” DeRozan said of his — and the team’s — approach to the victory.

And-Ones: In-Season Tournament, Point Differential, Cole

While most of the league has gotten back to business as usual, the eight teams that advanced in the NBA’s first-ever in-season tournament are focused on the knockout round and a trip to Las Vegas for the semifinals and title game, writes Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press. Single-elimination games will start Monday with the Pacers hosting the Celtics and the Pelicans meeting the Kings, and will continue Tuesday with Knicks-Bucks and Lakers-Suns matchups.

“I just want to make every appeal I can to our fans that we need the loudest building possible,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “To show you that no good deed goes unpunished, we draw the team with the best record in basketball. But we do get to play them at home. So that’s something important. We need our building to be as loud and raucous as it possibly can and we need to throw a game out there that’s exceptional.”

The new tournament falls at a perfect time on the NBA calendar, notes Sam Amick of The Athletic. It brings added stakes to numerous early-season games and ends six days before December 15, which marks the unofficial start of trading season as most free agents who signed during the summer become eligible to be dealt. Ten days later marks the Christmas Day showcase, which Amick points out is when much of the general public typically starts paying attention to the league.

There’s more from around the basketball world:

  • The NBA may have to address the point-differential issue before next year’s tourney, Amick adds in the same piece. Having it as the primary tie-breaker led to unusual strategy in several late-game situations on Tuesday, and Knicks guard Josh Hart said it “messes with the integrity of the game a little bit.” Warriors coach Steve Kerr, whose team needed a 13-point win at Sacramento to reach the final eight, talked with reporters before the game about a scenario where it might be advantageous to let the Kings force overtime and try to dominate the extra session. He also made it clear that he wouldn’t pursue that strategy. “I’ll let (commissioner) Adam Silver answer,” Kerr said. “He gets to decide what we should do. I don’t know. It’s a very interesting question.”
  • The Athletic’s NBA staff examines the most pressing concerns for all 30 teams, from the top of the league, where the Celtics have to be worried about frontcourt depth in light of Kristaps Porzingis‘ injury history, to the bottom, where the Pistons might be forced into upending their roster sooner than expected.
  • Veteran guard Norris Cole has joined the G League Ignite, tweets Marc J. Spears of Andscape. Cole, 35, won two titles with the Heat but has been out of the NBA since 2017.

Central Notes: Jerome, Pistons, J. Smith, Connaughton, Bulls

Frustrated by his slow recovery from a severe right ankle sprain, Cavaliers guard Ty Jerome has adjusted his treatment plan in the hopes of accelerating his return to the court, reports Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (subscriber link).

As Fedor details, Jerome recently had the ankle immobilized within a cast, which he’ll wear for about a week. The hope is that he’ll be able to resume individual workouts after having the cast removed.

“He is recovering,” head coach J.B. Bickerstaff said on Tuesday. “They’re doing different steps with him and trying some new things, different things in order to help him. He’s doing another treatment now and I’ll let the medical staff talk about timeline when they put all that together. He’s trying something different than just the normal rehab.”

Jerome has long been a favorite of Cavaliers president of basketball operations Koby Altman, according to Fedor. When he signed a two-year deal with the team this past summer, the plan was for him to be mentored by veteran point guard Ricky Rubio.

Instead, due to Rubio’s absence, Jerome was thrust into the backup point guard role to open the season, then suffered the ankle injury in just his second game as a Cavalier. While it hasn’t been an ideal start to his time in Cleveland, Jerome is trying to look at the bright side, telling Fedor, “Guess it’s better to be injured early rather than late.”

Here’s more from around the Central:

  • Following a team-record 15th consecutive loss on Wednesday, Pistons head coach Monty Williams suggested that “this group struggles with adversity,” which is one reason why the slump has only gotten worse, per Omari Sankofa II of The Detroit Free Press. James L. Edwards III of The Athletic expects lineup changes to be around the corner, with Bojan Bogdanovic likely to start when he makes his season debut — that could happen as soon as this Thursday or Saturday, says Edwards.
  • Pacers center Jalen Smith‘s leg injury isn’t as serious as the team initially feared, but he has been diagnosed with a left knee bone bruise and a left heel contusion and will miss at least the next two games, writes Dustin Dopirak of The Indianapolis Star. Isaiah Jackson is the leading candidate to take Smith’s spot in the rotation, while two-way player Oscar Tshiebwe is being called up from the G League to provide depth, Dopirak adds.
  • In an in-depth story for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jim Owczarski takes a look at the journey Pat Connaughton has taken to secure his place in the NBA as a reliable role player for the Bucks, as well as the work he has done in Milwaukee off the court.
  • While it’s one thing to be beaten by more talented teams, the slumping Bulls have also had more “low-effort moments” during their recent losing streak, writes Joe Cowley of The Chicago Sun-Times.

Magic Notes: Carter, Fultz, Okeke, Defense

Speaking to the media on Tuesday for the first time since breaking a bone in his left hand nearly four weeks ago, Magic center Wendell Carter Jr. admitted that he was frustrated at the time of the injury, knowing he would likely be facing an extended absence. However, he’s in better spirits now after having his cast removed, writes Jason Beede of The Orlando Sentinel (subscription required).

“Today was probably one of the best days of my life,” Carter said on Tuesday. “When [the doctor] was saying I didn’t have to wear the cast anymore, it was like, ‘OK, it’s another step in the right direction.’ I’m just super excited just to finally get back out there at some point and help this team continue to win.”

According to Beede, Carter expects it will be about two weeks before he gets the green light from team doctors to resume practicing in full. The former seventh overall pick has been replaced by Goga Bitadze, who has started the past 12 games in the middle for the Magic. As Beede writes, Orlando hasn’t missed a beat during that time, improving its record to 12-5, and Carter has enjoyed watching the team’s success from the sidelines.

“We’re one of those teams that can hold their own against any team in this league,” he said. “Being able to sit on the sidelines and watch the joy that everyone’s playing with, [it] just gives me extra confidence, extra motivation so when I come back I’ll be able to play with that same joy and confidence as they are.”

Here are a few more notes on the Magic:

  • Magic point guard Markelle Fultz will miss a 10th consecutive game on Wednesday due to left knee tendinitis. Fultz hasn’t played since November 9 and has only appeared in one game this month, but head coach Jamahl Mosley indicated on Tuesday that he’s “coming along,” per Beede (Twitter link). “We’re going to constantly see how he reacts to just what is happening each day,” Mosley said. “And he’s progressing. We’re just going to continue to evaluate as we go day-to-day with him.”
  • Chuma Okeke is a name to monitor as a possible trade candidate this season, according to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, who notes that teams like the Cavaliers, Suns, Bucks, and Nuggets have expressed exploratory interest in Okeke in the past. The fourth-year forward, who will be eligible for restricted free agency in 2024, is considered a good locker room presence and a hard worker, Scotto adds.
  • Speaking to Marc J. Spears of Andscape, Mosley said the camaraderie and selflessness among the Magic players is one reason why he was confident about the team’s outlook coming into this season. “It’s one of the best groups I’ve been around because it is a genuine care for the next guy,” Mosley said. “… And there was a joy for whoever was successful on any given night. There was never a thing like, ‘Oh, that guy’s got it going, now I need to get mine.’ It was like, ‘Oh man, I’m so proud of you. Keep doing your thing.’ No matter who it was. And that speaks volumes for a younger group.”
  • Both Spears and Josh Robbins of The Athletic took a closer look at the Magic’s hot start this season. Winners of seven straight games, Orlando ranks second in the NBA with a 107.0 defensive rating. “Coach Mos, I give him credit, he came in from training camp saying he wanted to be a No. 1-caliber defensive team in the league,” Paolo Banchero said. “That is what we have been so far. Give huge credit to the coaches for instilling that in us and the players for executing it.”