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What is the NBA in-season tournament? Format, schedule, groups

NBA, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Lakers

The NBA's inaugural in-season tournament has reached the knockout rounds, which will culminate in one team hoisting the NBA Cup and each of its players walking away with $500,000 in prize money.

After all 30 teams were split into six groups and played four group stage games across November, eight qualified for the quarterfinals with four teams now heading to Las Vegas.

The Indiana Pacers beat the visiting Boston Celtics 122-112 on Monday night to clinch a berth in the semifinals, while the New Orleans Pelicans also booked their spot with a 127-117 win at the Sacramento Kings.

The Pacers will next face the Milwaukee Bucks, who topped the visiting New York Knicks 146-122 on Tuesday. The Pelicans will take on LeBron James and the Lakers, who later defeated the Phoenix Suns in a 106-103 thriller in Los Angeles.

The semifinals will take place on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, followed by the championship game on Saturday.

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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Tuesday | FAQ | Full Schedule

Lakers book semifinals spot behind LeBron's clutch play

When asked how much longer he'll play before retiring, LeBron James likes to say that as long as he stays mentally sharp, his body will follow.

It was apparent that he was locked in on Tuesday, arriving at Crypto.com Arena nearly five hours before tipoff of the Lakers' eventual quarterfinals win over the Suns.

He arrived early and starred late, scoring 15 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter to earn L.A. a trip to Las Vegas and a chance to capture the first NBA Cup, starting with Thursday's semifinal game against the Pelicans.

Before Tuesday's contest, Lakers coach Darvin Ham spoke about how the timing of the tourney has lifted his team.

"This part of the year, you slowly start to feel the grind of the season early, but games like this, any type of mental or physical fatigue you kind of throw away and focus on the prize," Ham said.

One team source joked to ESPN the Lakers should thank NBA commissioner Adam Silver for launching the in-season tournament this year, if only for the impact it had in reviving James (who will turn 39 this month) in his 21st season and getting him locked in on a new goal when he already has accomplished so much.

James' performance marked the 76th time in his career that he scored 15 or more in the closing quarter, tying Kobe Bryant for the most such instances since play-by-play was first tracked in 1996-97, per ESPN Stats & Information research.

There were several flurries by James down the stretch. When the Suns tied the score at 89 with just over seven minutes to go, James had a driving layup and a walk-up 3 in transition to open up a 94-89 lead.

After hitting the 3, he pointed to his son, USC freshman guard Bronny James, who was sitting in the stands.

During the ensuing Phoenix timeout, Bronny pulled off his best Kenny Smith impression by signaling "It's over! It's over!" to comedian Druski, who was sitting on the baseline next to LeBron's longtime friend and agent, Rich Paul.

It took another push by James to ultimately prove his son's prediction -- back-to-back scores to put the Lakers up by five with 2:20 to go -- and a 3 by Austin Reaves with 15.1 seconds left that gave L.A. the final edge.

Reaves' performance can't be overlooked. He scored 13 of his 20 points in the third quarter after Phoenix used a 14-0 run to open the second half and erase L.A.'s double-digit lead.

Anthony Davis, despite missing a free throw with 6.1 seconds remaining and shooting 10-of-26 overall, set the tone early for the Lakers and finished with 27 points and 15 rebounds.

And James, who finished with a season-high five steals, certainly also rose to the occasion as the Lakers' in-season tourney run marches on. -- Dave McMenamin

Bucks knock out Knicks thanks to Antetokounmpo, Lillard

The star duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard put together an offensive masterpiece against the visiting Knicks on Tuesday night to advance to the tournament semifinals.

The Bucks scored their highest tally of the season in the 146-122 decision to remain undefeated during tourney play and book their spot in Las Vegas, where they'll face the Pacers on Thursday (ESPN, 5 p.m. ET).

"We want to win two championships this year," Bucks guard Malik Beasley said before the game. "Start off with this one and get us on the right foot."

Milwaukee put together the kind of unstoppable offense it envisioned when it made the trade to acquire Lillard, generating wide-open 3-pointers all over the floor. The Bucks made 23 of their 38 attempts from deep on Tuesday to shoot 60.5% and outscore the Knicks by 48 points from behind the line. It's the second time in team history Milwaukee has shot 60% or better on 3-pointers while taking at least 35 attempts.

The scoring barrage came against a stingy Knicks defense that had led the NBA in opponent scoring entering Tuesday. Lillard finished with 28 points, while Antetokounmpo enjoyed a 35-point, 10-assist performance.

Since their first meeting to kick off group stage play last month, the Bucks and the Knicks had found themselves on the upswing. Entering Tuesday's matchup, Milwaukee had won nine of its previous 11 contests, while New York had captured seven of its prior nine.

The Knicks wasted an inspired effort from Julius Randle, who went 9-for-9 from the floor in the first half and finished with 41 points on 14-of-19 shooting.

New York will now travel to face the Boston Celtics on Friday night. -- Jamal Collier


Semifinals schedule

Dec. 7 公众号:暂未开通 Pacers vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 5 p.m. | ESPN

Dec. 7 | New Orleans Pelicans vs. Los Angeles Lakers | 9 p.m. | TNT

NBA in-season tournament bracket


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• ESPN Insiders: Dream final? MVP? The in-season tourney's big questions
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• Fantasy: Top streamers to target during final week of in-season tournament
• Kings come back to stun Warriors, advance in tournament
• 'It was a little weird': Players irked by tourney's point-differential rule 
• Heat F Jimmy Butler sits out loss vs. Bucks with ankle injury
• Hornets guard LaMelo Ball out weeks due to ankle sprain
• Bontemps: Tournament provides added incentive for Haliburton, Pacers
• 309 total points! Pacers clinch first-ever QF spot in high scoring win over Hawks
• LeBron James passes 39,000-point mark as Lakers advance to knockouts
• Green, Thompson, McDaniels ejected in Wolves-Warriors fight 
• Myles Turner's dunk kicks off first NBA in-season tournament
• Sources: Coaches to get paid for advancing in NBA in-season tournament
• Lowe: How the bold new NBA in-season tournament courts came to fruition
• NBA goes Hollywood to promote in-season tournament

FAQ (by Tim Bontemps)


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


Nov. 21

Magic 126, Raptors 107

Pacers 157, Hawks 152

Cavaliers 122, 76ers 119 (OT)

Suns 120, Trail Blazers 107

Lakers 131, Jazz 99


Nov. 24

Magic 113, Celtics, 96

Suns 110, Grizzlies 89

Knicks 100, Heat 98

Raptors 121, Bulls 108

Pacers 136, Pistons 113

Rockets 105, Nuggets 86

Bucks 131, Wizards 128

Kings 124, Timberwolves 111

Warriors 118, Spurs 112

Pelicans 116, Clippers 106


Nov. 28

Celtics 124, Bulls 97

Nets 115, Raptors 103

Cavaliers 128, Hawks 105

Bucks 131, Heat 124

Knicks 115, Hornets 91

Timberwolves 106, Thunder 103

Mavericks 121, Rockets 115

Kings 124, Warriors 123


Quarterfinals

Quarterfinals

Dec. 4 | Pacers 122, Celtics 112

Dec. 4 公众号:暂未开通 127, Kings 117

Dec. 5 公众号:暂未开通 146, Knicks 122 

Dec. 5 公众号:暂未开通 106, Suns 103

Semifinals (at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas)

Dec. 7 公众号:暂未开通 Pacers vs. Milwaukee Bucks | 5 p.m. | ESPN

Dec. 7 | New Orleans Pelicans vs. Los Angeles Lakers | 9 p.m. | TNT

Championship (at T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas)

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

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