The first round of the knockout stages of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament (NIT) and we’ve got our Final Four. The Los Angeles Lakers and New Orleans Pelicans will take each other on to decide who will represent the Western Conference, while the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers will battle to see to comes out of the Eastern Conference.
Here’s a breakdown of matchups in the East and West.
Los Angeles Lakers vs. New Orleans Pelicans
The Lakers and Pelicans haven’t met each other yet this season and so it’ll be exciting for both teams to play against each other with the added pressure of a tournament knockout at stake.
Former Laker Brandon Ingram will be looking to hand the team that drafted him with the second overall pick in 2016. Ingram’s had a great season so far, averaging 23.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.3 assists. He was key to the Pelicans’ quarterfinals victory against the Sacramento Kings, who had no answer for his length and skill.
Flanking him is Zion Williamson, who is putting up 22.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.1 steals per game. Williamson was relatively quiet against the Kings, and his late game conditioning is still a bit of a question mark, but his raw athletic ability could be tough for the Lakers to handle.
The final part of the three-headed snake for the Pelicans is CJ McCollum, who has made a return from a collapsed lung and provides the spacing and shooting that opens up the midrange and paint for Ingram and Williamson. McCollum is currently on 20.7 points, 4.2 rebounds and 6.0 assists for the Pelicans and could cause LA problems if he heats up from long range.
New Orleans can also rely of other impactful players like Jonas Valanciunas, whose size could be a problem for the Lakers front court, Herb Jones, Trey Murphy and defensive pest Jose Alvarado.
The Lakers, of course, have the indefatigable LeBron James who led them to a third-straight victory this season over the Phoenix Suns. James had 31 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists and five steals in 40 minutes of action.
Anthony Davis was no slouch either with his 27 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks. He’ll need to provide a similar output to beat the Pelicans and his counterpart in Valanciunas will make sure it’s a physical grind in Las Vegas.
The other Laker to keep a lookout for is Austin Reaves, who dropped 20 points, six rebounds and two assists in 27 minutes off the bench. Reaves has shown that he’s been worth the contract he got in the offseason so far, but he’s going to have his hands full trying to get past Jones and Alvarado, who hounded the Kings into multiple turnovers.
The Lakers cover the -2 spread and the total hits under 230.
Milwaukee Bucks vs. Indiana Pacers
The semifinals in the East is a battle between a veteran squad with one recent title under its belt against a young team that is trying to establish themselves as legitimate contenders.
The Milwaukee Bucks are led by their star duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard who were both pivotal in their 146-122 dismantling of the New York Knicks in the semifinals. He was nearly unstoppable and shot 15 of 22 against New York.
Lillard was no slouch either and his shooting combines perfectly with Antetokounmpo’s bruising game. The two of them will be a handful for their counterparts in the Pacers.
Khris Middleton is also starting to get more minutes after being slowly worked back into shape after his injury. He played 26 minutes against the Knicks and could provide the spark that Milwaukee needs against the Pacers.
All eyes will be on the Indiana though, as they avenged their 155-104 loss to the Boston Celtics, the top seed in the East, in their quarterfinals matchup. Their young star, Tyrese Haliburton, had a sublime game and notched a triple-double while leading Indiana to victory. He’s blossoming into one of the league’s best point guards and he’ll be looking to make his mark against a legend in Lillard.
Haliburton’s got a shooter in Buddy Field to back him up, along with a talented center in Myles Turner to work with on the inside. He’s also got other young teammates with talent like Benedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard, who have shown that they can turn it on for a game.
Although the Bucks have a serious talent advantage, that’s the beauty of a single elimination format. Anything can happen, and the Pacers have already shown that they can defeat a more talented foe.
The Bucks cover the -4 spread and the total hits over 254.5.