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NBA In-Season Tournament Championship preview: Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers battle for the NBA Cup

The Indiana Pacers shocked the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night to book a spot in the final of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament, where they will face the LA Lakers.

The Pacers meet the similarly unbeaten Lakers, who were dragged to the final by LeBron James. The King rolled back the years to take LA to the championship game on Saturday night.

Whichever side can hold their unbeaten record this weekend will depart Vegas as the first-ever winners of the NBA Cup.

With $500,000 per player on the line, expect a competitive clash between two sides who have consistently raised their game for the NBA’s new addition.

WhatIndiana Pacers vs. LA Lakers
WhereT-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas, NV
When9 PM ET, Saturday December 9 
How to watchABC, ESPN
OddsLA Lakers -4.0, IND Pacers +155 ML

Disciplined Pacers announce their arrival

The Pacers are surprise representatives of the Eastern Conference in Saturday’s showdown. They’ve done it the hard way, dispatching the four favorites in the East to make it this far.

The Pacers downed the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Philadelphia 76ers in the group stage. They then beat the Boston Celtics 122-112 in Monday’s quarterfinal before their 128-119 semifinal success against the Bucks.

Their victory over Milwaukee saw this up-and-coming Pacers side truly take the spotlight. Tyrese Haliburton’s fantastic season continued as he posted 27 points and 15 assists up against possibly the best duo in the NBA.

With Haliburton and a coach as tactically savvy as Rick Carlisle, the Pacers are capable of winning a one-off game against any team in the league, and they proved that in the semifinals.

Haliburton even broke out Damian Lillard’s iconic Dame Time celebration after landing a late three-pointer to all but wrap up the win. 

However, this Pacers side is more than just Haliburton. The team defended well down the stretch, showing a discipline which hasn’t really been present across the regular season.

They bought in as a collective, which is a positive sign for the future for Indiana. 

LeBron leads blowout as he chases more glory

The Lakers booked their place in the championship game with a massive 133-89 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. There was little doubt about the star of the show, with LeBron posting 30 points and chipping in with eight assists.

James was even taking charges against Zion Williamson, showing how desperate he is to triumph in the inaugural In-Season Tournament.

The league’s all-time leading scorer has only spoken about the prize money and the added competition as driving factors behind the Lakers’ tournament displays.

The team are 14-9 for the season now, going 6-0 in tournament games and 8-9 outside of that. 

The unsaid part of LeBron’s determination in Vegas is likely his legacy. He turns 39 later this month and that longevity is a key factor behind his claim to be the greatest of all-time.

While he still trails Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships, an In-Season Tournament medal would be yet another highlight in a glittering career. 

The Lakers have had their tests along the way, having beat Kevin Durant’s Phoenix Suns twice to book a place in Vegas.

Can the Pacers produce another upset?

Heading into Saturday’s showdown, the Pacers are in a familiar underdog position. The Lakers are -175 favorites, while they start the game favored by -4.0 on the spread. 

There’s plenty of temptation in such a short spread margin as - outside of two narrow wins against the Suns - the Lakers’ games haven’t really been close.

They’ve recorded blowout wins in the In-Season Tournament against the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies, along with their semifinal success over the Pelicans.

Across those four wins their lowest margin of victory was 12 points, and the Lakers group play with a league-high +74 point differential. 

The key to those big wins for the Lakers was defense, as they held sides to 103 points or less in four of their six tournament games. Doing that against a Pacers team who have statistically the best offense in the NBA will be a lot harder.

The Pacers’ games have been thrilling so far, as they rank first in offensive rating and third-worst in defensive rating for the season.

Their lowest-scoring tournament game clocked in at 234 total points and that was against a Celtics side who rank second for defense this term.

The Lakers aren’t quite at that level, but their offense will surely get going once LeBron puts the team on his back once again.

The Pacers couldn’t live with the Bucks in the paint for much of the semifinal clash, which should lead to big nights for both James and Anthony Davis.

This clash is likely to be a thrilling one, with the total points line set at 241.

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