The NBA In-Season Tournament lasts from November 3 to December 9.
By the time this article comes out, the winners of the In-Season tournament will have already been revealed. Therefore, to keep the predictions fair, this article will be split into two parts. The first part will be my predictions of the In-Season tournament semi-finals, which I wrote on December 7, 2023. The second part will be correcting my predictions, which I wrote on December 10, 2023 after the finals. But to start things off, here’s a brief explanation of the new In-Season tournament.
What is the in-season tournament?
According to the official NBA website, the In-Season tournament is a tournament held during the normal NBA season to keep the players competitive and get the fans engaged. The tournament is composed of two stages, the group stage and the knockout stage. In the group stage, all 30 NBA teams have been randomly drawn into groups of five within their conference based on won-loss records from the 2022-23 regular season. Each team will play four designated Group Play games on “Tournament Nights” — one game against each opponent in its group, with two games at home and two on the road. Eight teams will advance to the Knockout Rounds: the team with the best standing in Group Play games in each of the six groups and two “wild cards” (the team from each conference with the best record in Group Play games that finished second in its group). The Knockout Rounds will be single-elimination games in the Quarterfinals, Semi-finals, and Championship. The qualifying teams will compete for a prize pool and the new In-Season Tournament trophy, the NBA Cup.
Semi-finals 1: Indiana Pacers vs Milwaukee Bucks
Looking at this match-up, the Bucks are arguably the stronger, more favored team, being second-seeded in the eastern conference with a 15-7 record. The Bucks have superstar duo Giannis Antetekoumpo and Damian Lillard, as well as many reliable players like Brook Lopez, Kris Middleton, and Malik Beasley.
On the other hand, the Pacers are looking strong coming into this game. Having just pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament by beating the first-seeded Boston Celtics and robbing fans of a Bucks versus Celtics matchup, Tyrese Halliburton is playing like, arguably, the best point guard in the league. Even though the Pacers are sixth in the table with a 12-8 record, the Bucks have played two more games than the Pacers. Let’s not forget the other players on the Pacers, notably Buddy Hield and Myles Turner, who have solidly contributed to the team. Therefore, with the Pacers riding a high off the Celtics win, I predict the Pacers pulling off a narrow upset in a high-scoring, exciting game.
Winner: Indiana Pacers
Semi-finals 2: Los Angeles Lakers vs New Orleans Pelicans
The Lakers are definitely the favorites to win this game and even the tournament. They are currently fourth in the Western Conference, with a record of 14-9. Going into this game, the Lakers have just narrowly edged out the Phoenix Suns, with Lebron James playing 40 minutes with 31 points, not to mention Anthony Davis and Austin Reaves with solid contributions. They have a strong starting five and a very reliable bench. They also have an incredible defense, with Davis and James both doing a great job.
Moving on to the Pelicans, they are currently eighth in the Western Conference with a record of 12-11. The Pelicans topped their In-Season tournament group and edged out the Sacramento Kings in the quarter-finals. Some solid performers on this team are Brandon Ingram, CJ McCollum, and, most importantly, a healthy Zion Williamson. However, the Pelicans are far from their incredible run at the start of the 2022 season, and Williamson doesn’t look like his old self anymore. Looking at this match-up, I have the Lakers winning by a blowout due to their strong defense, as the Pelicans team just doesn’t have enough fuel to beat them.
Winner: Los Angeles Lakers
Finals: Indiana Pacers vs Los Angeles Lakers
This will be an incredibly tense and exciting matchup, with both teams coming into the game strong. Going into this game, the Pacers have defeated both the first and second seed in the eastern conference, while the Lakers have won by blowing out the Pelicans in style. This game will be a very tense matchup, with the scoring very close throughout the match. I predict the Pacers will pull away in the fourth quarter thanks to some clutch threes by Tyrese Haliburton. The Lakers won’t have enough firepower to defeat the Pacers, and Haliburton will score north of 40 points. I have the Pacers winning the first-ever In-Season tournament and, more importantly, their first-ever trophy. Additionally, thanks to his dominant performance throughout the tournament, I predict Tyrese Haliburton will win the MVP.
Winner: Indiana Pacers
Winner of the 2023 In-Season Tournament: Los Angeles Lakers
So…my predictions were right until the finals.
Why were my predictions wrong in the finals?
First, I didn’t account for the Lakers’ defense. The Pacers have a relatively small starting five, and the gigantic Lakers' defense was too much for them. Anthony Davis was a beast throughout the game, ending with 41 points and 20 rebounds while playing an incredible 41 minutes. Austin Reaves balled out in the first half with 22 points, and Lebron James was still as strong as ever at 38 years old, with 24 points and 11 rebounds. The Lakers’ strategy throughout the game was to double-team Tyrese Haliburton. They were also lucky, as the Pacers couldn’t knock down crucial threes in the fourth quarter. When looking at the Lakers floor, it was significantly bigger than the Pacers, with the Lakers playing both 6’10” Davis and 6’7” Cam Reddish. After Myles Turner fouled out for the Pacers with 7 minutes to go, the only spark in the team was T.J. McConnell and Tyrese Haliburton. Just to show how the Laker's defense has affected the Pacers, the Pacers have scored at least 104 points in every game they've played this season and 105 in every game Tyrese Haliburton has played. With a little less than three minutes remaining, the Lakers have held them to 99. And even though they scored 109 points in the end, this was the best defense that anyone has played against the Pacers so far this season. The Lakers have put an end to the fairytale run of the Pacers, winning the inaugural NBA Cup, and I guess the Pacers will have to continue waiting for their first-ever trophy.
Also, I wanted to point out that James won the In-Season tournament MVP. I respect that, but I would have loved to see Davis win the MVP instead, as without him, the Lakers could have never overcome the Pacers.