Pacers book quarterfinals spot; Lakers do too as LeBron reaches 39K points

The NBA announced on Aug. 15 its schedule for the group stage of the inaugural in-season tournament, which will see the winning team earn the NBA Cup and its players $500,000 each.

The tournament — whose final will be on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas — will see each NBA team play a four-game group stage in November, with the group winners advancing to the knockout rounds.

The tourney will be a proving ground for the league’s newest star, as Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs have more nationally televised games (three) than any other team during this month’s four-game group stage.

So what, exactly, is the NBA Cup? How will the tournament work? Why is it happening? What is the NBA hoping to get out of it?

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Pacers, Lakers clinch in-season tourney quarterfinals spots

The Indiana Pacers became the first team to punch its ticket to the in-season tournament quarterfinals — and did so in a fashion befitting how their season so far.

After allowing the Atlanta Hawks to score 86 first-half points, the Pacers roared back in the second half behind 37 points and 16 assists from Tyrese Haliburton to claim an enthralling 157-152 victory.

With the win, Indiana improved to 3-0 in East Group A and clinched the top spot in the group because of prior victories over the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers. If Indiana wins its final group stage game Friday against the Detroit Pistons, it will have a very strong chance of hosting one of the two Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Dec. 4 or 5.

Joining the Pacers in the quarterfinals are the Los Angeles Lakers, who routed the Utah Jazz 131-99 to clinch West Group A with a 4-0 record. Anthony Davis had 26 points and 16 rebounds, while LeBron James had 17 points, 7 rebounds and 9 assists, as he became the first player ever to surpass 39,000 points. With the win, the Lakers are guaranteed of hosting a quarterfinal game.

The Sixers and Cavs played their own thriller with Cleveland escaping Philly with a 122-119 overtime victory. The Cavs, who were missing Donovan Mitchell, led by as many as 18 in the third quarter before the Sixers came storming back into the proceedings.

With the win, Cleveland keeps its hopes of advancing to the quarterfinals as the wild-card team alive, though doing so will require a win over the Hawks in their final group stage game and then likely having the best point differential among the second-place teams in the East.

The Phoenix Suns also kept their hopes of qualifying as a wild card alive with a 120-107 win over the Portland Trail Blazers behind 31 points from Kevin Durant. The Suns will still likely need to beat the Memphis Grizzlies in their final West Group A game to have a shot at advancing on point differential.

Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic blew out the Toronto Raptors 126-107 to remain alive in East Group C. If Orlando wins its final group stage game against the Boston Celtics, and Toronto beats the Brooklyn Nets next week, Orlando would win the group. If Brooklyn wins, there could be a three-way tie for the top of the group, with the order then being determined by point differential.

Tuesday’s games

Magic 126, Raptors 107
Pacers 157, Hawks 152
Cavaliers 122, 76ers 119 (OT)
Suns 120, Trail Blazers 107
Lakers 131, Jazz 99

NBA in-season tournament standings

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ESPN Analytics projects which teams will make it to the knockout phase of the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament.







Through games of Nov. 21


Why is this happening?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has wanted to implement it for years, for a variety of reasons. Much like the play-in games, though, it took a long time for him to convince everyone involved to give it a shot.

The first hope, obviously, is that it generates revenue. The NBA believes the in-season tournament can become a significant moneymaking franchise over time because of the ability to sell its television rights — as it did with the WNBA’s version of the event.

The other hope is to draw more eyeballs to the league. The stretch of time the tournament is set within — from the start of November through the first week of December — might be the most irrelevant part of the NBA schedule.

It’s after the initial rush of the season starting, and alongside the college football and NFL regular seasons. If this tournament can bring more attention to the sport during its least relevant time of the year, it will be seen as a victory.

What is the format?

Silver has long been fascinated with European soccer, and the basis for the NBA’s in-season tournament lies in the cup tournaments across Europe. In those leagues, there is a regular-season championship, determined by the team with the most points over the full year, and then a separate tournament (or, in some leagues, multiple tournaments) that runs concurrently with the league season.

Unlike European soccer tournaments, though, which all are played outside of the league schedule, the NBA Cup is built into the NBA’s regular-season schedule. The 30 teams were split up into six five-team groups.

The four group stage games will be played on seven November dates: four Fridays (Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24) and three Tuesdays (Nov. 14, 21 and 28).

The quarterfinals will be played Dec. 4 and 5 at the higher-seeded team, and the semifinals and championship game will be Dec. 7 and 9 in Las Vegas.

How will this impact the regular-season schedule and standings?

Typically, the NBA sends out a full 82-game schedule in mid-August. This year, though, the league only sent 80 games, with a gap in the schedule from Dec. 3-10. Each team’s final two regular-season games will be determined by how the in-season tournament plays out.

The 22 teams that fail to qualify for the knockout rounds of the in-season tournament will have their final two games scheduled — one at home and one on the road — on Dec. 6 and 8 against other teams eliminated in the group stage.

The East teams that lose in the quarterfinals and the West teams that lose in the quarterfinals will play each other on Dec. 7. The teams that lose in the semifinals in Las Vegas will have played their full allotment of 82 games, while the teams that reach the championship game will actually wind up playing 83 games — with the championship game not counting toward the regular-season standings.

Why does the NBA Cup include regular-season games?

Before its launch, one of the biggest questions surrounding the in-season tournament was why any team would be incentivized to compete in it. By making it part of the regular-season schedule, and making every game count toward the regular season — very important from a playoff tiebreaker standpoint — the NBA created a situation in which it is in teams’ interest to win these games.

If this had been set up like the cup tournaments in European soccer, there would’ve been nothing stopping NBA teams from opting out literally or figuratively, sitting all of their top players and getting extra rest time. Under this system, though, they’ll have every incentive to play and win.

What teams make up the groups?

To create the groups — which were separated by conferences — the NBA put all 15 teams in each conference into five pots, separated by their finish in last season’s standings. So: Pot 1 included the teams that finished 1-3 in regular-season record, teams 4-6 went into Pot 2, teams 7-9 in Pot 3, teams 10-12 in Pot 4 and teams 13-15 in Pot 5.

As a result, the following groups were drawn:

East Group A: Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons

East Group B: Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets

East Group C: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic

West Group A: Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, LA Lakers, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers

West Group B: Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets

West Group C: Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs

What do players get for winning?

The players on the winning team will each get $500,000, while the runners-up will get $200,000. The losing players of the semifinals will each get $100,000, and the losing players of the quarterfinals will each get $50,000.

Will anyone earn individual honors for their play in NBA Cup games?

There will be a Most Valuable Player award for the in-season tournament, as well as an all-tournament team.

Will this have any impact on the playoffs?

Not beyond the games being regular-season games that count in the standings. While there was some debate among league insiders about guaranteeing a playoff berth as a reward for winning the tournament, ultimately that idea — or any other to further incentivize teams — was not enacted. The only playoff impact will come from the wins and losses accrued throughout the tournament.

Why is it called the NBA Cup?

Because it’s easy enough to change. In the short term, the NBA has said it went with the most basic of titles for both the tournament and its trophy — the “in-season tournament” and “NBA Cup” — as a way to introduce the concept to fans. However, using such bland, nondescript names has another clear advantage: When the league looks to sell the naming rights to both, it’ll be an easier transition from an unremarkable name than one connected with a specific individual (such as the late David Stern, one possibility that had been floated before the tournament was officially unveiled).

In-season tournament scores and schedule

*All times are ET

Nov. 3

Pacers 121, Cavaliers 116

Bucks 110, Knicks 105

Heat 121, Wizards 114

Nets 109, Bulls 107

Trail Blazers 115, Grizzlies 113 (OT)

Nuggets 125, Mavericks 114

Warriors 141, Thunder 139

Nov. 10

76ers 114, Pistons 106

Hornets 124, Wizards 117

Celtics 121, Nets 107

Rockets 104, Pelicans 101

Jazz 127, Grizzlies 121

Timberwolves 117, Spurs 110

Mavericks 144, Clippers 129

Lakers 122, Suns 119

Kings 105, Thunder 98

Nov. 14

Pacers 132, 76ers 126

Hawks 126, Pistons 120

Heat 111, Hornets 105

Nets, 124, Magic 104

Pelicans 131, Mavericks 110

Thunder 123, Spurs 87

Nuggets 111, Clippers 108

Timberwolves 104, Warriors 101

Lakers 134, Grizzlies 107

Nov. 17

Bucks 130, Hornets 99

Knicks 120, Wizards 99

76ers 126, Hawks 116

Cavaliers 108, Pistons 100

Celtics 108, Raptors 105

Kings 129, Spurs 110

Magic 103, Bulls 97

Pelicans 115, Nuggets 110

Suns 131, Jazz 128

Lakers 107, Trail Blazers 95

Clippers 106, Rockets 100

Tuesday, Nov. 21

Magic 126, Raptors 107

Pacers 157, Hawks 152

Cavaliers 122, 76ers 119 (OT)

Suns 120, Trail Blazers 107

Lakers 131, Jazz 99

Friday, Nov. 24

Boston vs. Orlando | East C | 2:30 p.m. | NBA TV

Phoenix vs. Memphis | West A | 5 p.m. | NBA TV

Miami vs. New York | East B | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

San Antonio vs. Golden State | West C | 10 p.m. | ESPN

Chicago vs. Toronto | East C | 7:30 p.m.

Detroit vs. Indiana | East A | 8 p.m.

Denver vs. Houston | West B | 8 p.m.

Washington vs. Milwaukee | East B | 8 p.m.

Sacramento vs. Minnesota | West C | 8 p.m.

New Orleans vs. LA Clippers | West A | 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 28

Milwaukee vs. Miami | East B | 7:30 p.m. | TNT

Golden State vs. Sacramento | West C | 10 p.m. | TNT

Chicago vs. Boston | East C | 7:30 p.m.

Toronto vs. Brooklyn | East C | 7:30 p.m.

Atlanta vs. Cleveland | East A | 7:30 p.m.

Charlotte vs. New York | East B | 7:30 p.m.

Oklahoma City vs. Minnesota | West C | 7 p.m.

Houston vs. Dallas | West B | 8:30 p.m.


Dec. 4 | TBD | 7 or 7:30 p.m. | TNT

Dec. 4 | TBD | 9:30 or 10 p.m. | TNT

Dec. 5 | TBD | 7 or 7:30 p.m. | TNT

Dec. 5 | TBD | 9:30 or 10 p.m. | TNT


Dec. 7 | TBD | 5 p.m. | ESPN

Dec. 7 | TBD | 9 p.m. | TNT


Dec. 9 | TBD | 8:30 p.m. | ABC

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