Periodically, NBA.com editors will offer their thoughts on key storylines or hot topics around the league.
The elimination phase of In-season tournament arrived. Which team will be last in line?
The Lakers. This week is short, quick, simple and focused, which is what the Lakers need right now and look capable of winning. The regular season is long and too big for LeBron James at 38 years old. Additionally, keeping Anthony Davis active hasn’t always been the easiest task. But winning three games to lift the NBA Cup not far from home in Las Vegas and pocketing $500,000 quickly is a quick hurdle that could give momentum to this team’s season. My runner-up: Boston, because the Celtics are the most talented team in the league.
Celts. It’s tempting to pick a Lakers-Celtics final and decide the first mid-season tournament with another chapter in the league’s most storied rivalry…but I have the Kings coming from the West to take on the Celtics . Both teams delivered on their promises on the final night of group play – Boston earned the point differential needed to win their group, while Sacramento rallied to not only secure a spot through point differential , but won the match to remain undefeated.
Boston has the advantage of experience in playoff-style competitions and winning the NBA Cup could be a precursor to another trophy in June.
Celts. The home stretch of the tournament should favor whoever is best equipped to win now, not necessarily in June (for that other championship). And that defines the Celtics, more than anyone in the remaining field. The Celtics aren’t on the rise (Pacers, Knicks, Kings) or just happy to be here (Pelicans). They have an MVP candidate in Jayson Tatum and plenty of solid, mature help. It’s not like the franchise has ever won a significant championship (haha), so there’s incentive there too.
Celts. I would love to go against the grain, but it’s hard to compete against the team that has been 3.7 points per 100 possessions better than any of the other seven teams in the quarterfinals. Even without Kristaps Porzingis, Boston has a formidable starting five that it will rely heavily on. We know they’re taking this matter seriously and we shouldn’t be surprised if they get up extra early in Indiana Monday night. They dominated their opponents in 25.9 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the highest mark of any team in any quarter.
Michael C. Wright
Celtics. From top to bottom, every team in the quarterfinals has the talent to exit the tournament, with each player benefiting from an additional $500,000. So it comes down to a sense of urgency.
Coach Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics showed it Tuesday in the group game against the Bulls. Well versed in the rules and tiebreaker procedures, Mazzulla implemented a strategy to hack Andre Drummond to improve the point differential and reached the round of 16 by winning the tiebreaker against Orlando and Brooklyn.
Unpopular, yet Boston was willing. Armed with arguably the most talented team in the league, the Celtics will simply outwork everyone.