The knockout stages are now set for the NBA’s first in-season tournament, which is a single-elimination format that is sure to add some more spice to what normally would have just been regular season games.
Here’s a look at the matchups in the quarter-finals.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
The Lakers and Suns have already played twice this season and LeBron James has gotten the best of long-time foe Kevin Durant both times. James is averaging 26.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 9.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.5 blocks over those two games while Anthony Davis has 24 points, 11.5 rebounds, 1.5 seals and two blocks against Phoenix.
The first game was a heartbreaker for Phoenix, who led by as much as 12 before James summoned his powers to take over late in the game.
James in particular seems to be relishing the moment against Durant, who he’s faced three times in the NBA Finals. Durant’s not made it easy for the Lakers to get those two wins, as he’s putting up an insane 38.5 points, 10 rebounds and 3.5 assists in the season series.
A key thing to remember is that Devin Booker is yet to play against the Lakers this season, while Bradley Beal only played in one game where he had 24 points. While the Lakers have the edge in the series so far, Booker’s presence could make a big difference. He averaged 29 points, five rebounds and five assists against the Lakers in two regular season games last season.
All eyes will again be on James and Durant, who are playing against each other for the third time this season after not facing each other for five years due to an assortment of injuries. If there was a time for Durant to get one back this season, this would be it.
Sacramento Kings vs. New Orleans Pelicans
The Sacramento Kings had an insane comeback to their final group stage game against the Golden State Warriors, where they came back from being down 24 points with 1:17 left in the second quarter to a dramatic 124-123 victory in front of their home crowd. Led by De’Aaron Fox, who is playing even better than last season.
They face a tough opponent in the New Orleans Pelicans next, as the Pelicans already have one 129-93 blowout win against them before they held out after a big fourth quarter run from the Kings in the second game to win 117-112.
It hasn’t been particularly easy for Fox against the Pelicans so far, as he’s well below his league averages against New Orleans. He’s only averaging 20 points against the Pelicans and a team-worst plus/minus of -23. Domantas Sabonis is averaging 16.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and seven assists, but he has had trouble dealing with fellow Lithuanian Jonas Valanciunas’ size and strength. Valanciunas is doing it all against the Kings with 12.5 points, 12 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
Brandon Ingram’s combination of height and skill has been huge for the Pelicans against the Kings. He’s leading the team by averaging 27 points in the two wins against Sacramento and they don’t particularly have any wing defenders that match up well with him. He’s even shooting 66.7% from three on 4.5 attempts per game – way above his normal rate.
The other weapon that the Kings don’t have an answer for is Zion Williamson, who has used his unique mix of strength and ability to bully Sacramento in the post with averages of 25.5 points, four rebounds, 5.5 assists and 1.5 steals.
Another x-factor for the Pelicans is CJ McCollum, who will probably be available for the matchup after missing a long stretch of games due to a collapsed lung. He may not be cleared to fly yet, but he was given the OK to play at home and posted up 20 points, four rebound and and five assists in 28 minutes of action in a big win against the Philadelphia 76ers.