The stage is set for a harrowing or another coronation. Who will step up for the Lakers or the Pacers and take home the NBA Cup?

LAS VEGAS – It will not be counted in the standings. The stats will not calculate any individual or team scores. But the match between the Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Lakers played at Saturday night’s T-Mobile Arena (8:30 ET, ABC) is unique in deciding the first NBA in-season tournament in NBA history.

Key storylines

Underdogs vs. favorites. This new tournament has been a launching pad for the Pacers and their remarkable young point guard Tyrese Haliburton. The Lakers have been one of the league’s most successful franchises (17 NBA titles) and have as LeBron James as its most decorated active player. The stage is set for a harrowing or another coronation.

Contrast in styles. Indiana loves running, pushing the pace and scoring in groups. It ranks first in speed, in points per 100 assets (123.5) and first in fast-break points (17.2). Los Angeles likes to impose his will on games by playing through LeBron James and following a more traditional attack. The Lakers are seventh in defensive ratings (allowing 110.3 points per 100) but 25th in allowing 15.0 fast-break points.

Battle of the benches. The Pacers’ bench is essential for their season so far, contributing 46.5 points per game which ranks second in the NBA. The Lakers are 20th on 31.0. Will coaches go deeper into their rotation in a single-elimination game? So far in tournament matches teams are getting the same scoring from their benches, 42.5 ppg.

Biggest impact players

Chances are one of the teams’ respective stars – either Haliburton or James – will go out with the first in-season tournament Most Valuable Player award.

Tyrese Haliburton: This guy is gearing up for his network TV close-up, in which he scored a total of 53 points, 28 assists, and 0 turnovers. He is able to direct traffic, serve his teammates’ games, play fast or slow, and retrace his steps when other options are closed.

LeBron James: The NBA’s all-time points leader is in no hurry to leave the stage. Playing with the enthusiasm of a player 15 years younger and with a naturally durable body, there are only a few more Lakers wins from the James League MVP discussions. His per-36 points — 26.9 points, 8.1 rebounds, 7.2 assists — are favorable compared to his four-year actual average (26.9, 7.6, 6.7) in Miami. Which ended nine years ago.

X-factors to monitor

Every star needs help, and Haliburton and James are no different. Here are teammates from whom important contributions can come:

T.J. McConnell: Indiana has eight players averaging at least 10 points and McConnell (7.4) is not one of them. But the experienced backup point guard is aggressive, crowding and harassing opponents and with fellow guard Andrew Nembard (knee) will need it.

Anthony Davis: With the Lakers it’s never Eddie? When driven, he looks like the top 75 player he has been named. Other times, not so much. James should have been able to give proverbial command to the young star by now, but consistency remains a challenge.

What they’re saying

Pacers coach Rick Carlisle: “LeBron James is still at his peak. I’m seeing that guy last night, and it’s unprecedented. … Someone just gave me the stat: He’s the only player in NBA history to have been the youngest player in the league and the oldest player in the league. It clearly speaks of longevity and, in their case, an amazing race to greatness. He is the all-time leading scorer, and if Mount Rushmore is, he is one of the NBA Mount Rushmore guys.

Lakers coach Darvin Ham: “I see a kid [Halliburton], a multi-faceted, highly talented player who’s having a great time playing basketball. You look at him, he’s always smiling. … He always encourages his teammates. You could say they enjoy playing together. I mean, he does everything. He does little of everything. He puts pressure on you from the beginning of the clock to the end, a man who is able to push the pace, make incredible passes and read, make shots. He can do it all to a great extent.

Tyrese Haliburton: “We shouldn’t have been here and no one expected us to be here. We’ve probably been seen losing most of our tournament matches. Philly game, we shouldn’t have won. Boston Games We certainly weren’t going to win. Milwaukee, we certainly weren’t going to win. It’s just been part of this storybook, and it’s been a lot of fun. But it hasn’t been done yet. We have to be ready to go tomorrow and take that game in the right way.

Lakers wing Austin Reaves: “Everything [about James] feels a little different. This is now my third year, and having been around for those three years, this year he seems much more alive, healthy, and his competitiveness and attention to detail is always great. But there seems to be something different in the way he is playing. That’s a super-high level for anyone, any age, but especially for someone who’s played for as long as he’s played.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *