The NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament resumes Tuesday, with 10 teams — including the leaders of Group A in each conference: LeBron James’ Lakers out West and Tyrese Haliburton’s go-go Pacers in the East — in action on the fifth night of the tournament’s schedule.
Here’s a look at what’s at stake in Tuesday’s five-game in-season tournament slate, as well as the lay of the land in each of the six groups as the tourney presses on:
Gone till (next) November
The Grizzlies, Spurs, Pistons and Wizards have all lost their first three in-season tournament games. Even if they win their respective finales, they can’t advance out of the group stage. Sorry, fellas. No trips to Vegas for you.
Who’s sitting pretty
The Lakers own the West’s best point differential in group play, having outscored their opponents by 42 points across three victories. They can finish off a perfect run through Group A — and clinch a spot in the knockout round — with a win over the Jazz on Tuesday. It’ll be the first meeting between the two clubs this season; they split their four games last season, with the Jazz taking two November contests amid LA’s early-season struggles (hey, remember the Russell Westbrook era?) and the Lakers winning two April affairs after remaking their roster at the trade deadline.
After knocking off the 76ers last Tuesday behind a brilliant performance by their Haliburton-led offense, the Pacers sit atop Group A in the East. They take on a Hawks club that has lost four of its last six, giving up more than 118 points per 100 possessions in that span — potentially a friendly matchup for an Indiana team that’s been burying opponents with buckets in the opening weeks of the season. Get past Atlanta and only already-eliminated Detroit will stand between the Pacers and a trip to the knockout stages.
Despite an uneven overall start to the season, Milwaukee is 2-0 in tournament play heading into a meeting with the woeful Wizards on Friday. Beating up on Washington to inflate their East-leading point differential (+36) would put the Bucks in great shape to advance — whether as the winner of Group B, if they can take down also-undefeated Miami in their group finale next Tuesday, or as the East’s wild-card team, with a 3-1 record and a hefty margin of victory.
The fourth undefeated team in the East alongside Indy, Milwaukee and Miami? The Celtics, who’ve taken their first two Group C games by a combined 17 points and will bring what has been, according to Dunks and Threes’ strength-of-schedule adjusted ratings, the NBA’s best offense and best defense into their remaining contests against the Magic and Bulls. There could be some turbulence along the way: Orlando boasts an elite defense in its own right, and Chicago … well, maybe Zach LaVine (or Alex Caruso) turns in a showcase game! By and large, though, Boston looks to be in position to make it to the final eight.
Who’s still in the hunt
The 76ers trail the Pacers in Group A due to their head-to-head loss last week, but Philly’s actually got a better point differential (+12) than Indy (+11). A win over Cleveland on Tuesday would put the Sixers at 3-1 in group play — and within arm’s reach of advancing should Indy stumble.
As I mentioned earlier, the Heat are 2-0 and have a potential for-all-the-marbles meeting with their old pals from Milwaukee lined up for their Group B finale. Before they get there, though, they’ll have to deal with …
The Knicks, 1-1 in group play, who currently have a better point differential (+16) than Miami (+13), thanks to Friday’s blowout of the Wizards, and will finish their Group B slate with a Hornets team that they’ve already beaten twice by a combined 36 points this season. If New York can outlast Miami on Friday, the East’s wild-card race gets awfully interesting.
The Jazz — 2-1, +19 point differential, third-highest in the West — could really throw a wrench into the Group A proceedings by taking out the Lakers on Tuesday. Here’s where we note that, since inserting rookie point guard Keyonte George into the starting lineup, Utah has put up points at a top-five level and just took Phoenix to the final possession twice. Hey, speaking of …
The Suns’ final two games in group play come against the terrible Trail Blazers and already-eliminated Grizzlies. Mop them up and get a little luck elsewhere in the bracket, and Devin Booker, Kevin Durant and Co. could be moving on.
The Kings and Timberwolves are both 2-0 in the West’s Group C, with Sacramento holding a six-point edge in point differential (+16 to Minnesota’s +10) and the two teams set to square off Friday. Minny’s elite defense vs. a Kings attack that has been best-in-the-league blistering with De’Aaron Fox in the fold, and the inside track on a knockout berth in the balance? This could be a Black Friday barnburner.
Everybody in the West’s Group B is still alive. The Pelicans lead the way at 2-1 with a win in hand over the Nuggets … who are also 2-1 heading into their finale against the Rockets … who are 1-1 with a win in hand over New Orleans but just dropped a heartbreaker to the Clippers … who sit in the group’s basement, thanks to a head-to-head loss to the Mavericks. As the great Tom Ziller notes, it presently remains possible for all five teams in Group B to finish 2-2, giving us the first major “figuring out the tiebreakers” moment in in-season tournament history. A truly auspicious occasion!
What to know about Tuesday’s in-season tournament games
East, Group C
4. Toronto Raptors at 3. Orlando Magic, 7 p.m. ET (League Pass)
The Raptors are the only team in the league that has played just one in-season tournament game, a 108-105 loss to Boston on Friday. Scottie Barnes is off to a stellar start for Toronto, averaging 20.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and six assists per game. The only players to hit those marks over a full campaign by their age-22 season? Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Luka Dončić.
Orlando has won three straight overall, highlighted by an absolute smothering of the Pacers on Sunday in a game that was over before the end of the third quarter. The Magic enter Tuesday ranked fourth in points allowed per possession; the last time they fielded a top-five defense was 2010-11, when Dwight Howard finished second in MVP voting and won his third straight Defensive Player of the Year trophy.
East, Group A
3. Cleveland Cavaliers at 2. Philadelphia 76ers, 7 p.m. ET (TNT)
Cleveland enters on a three-game winning streak; extending the streak Tuesday would move the Cavs to 2-1 in group play, allowing them to leapfrog Philly for second place in Group A, and keeping alive their hopes of making it to the knockout stages. A big night from Max Strus would help: The big sign-and-trade acquisition is averaging 14.3 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, all career highs, and the Cavs have outscored opponents by eight points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
Who needs James Harden? The 10-3 Sixers lead the NBA in offensive efficiency, thanks largely to the two-man power trip of reigning MVP Joel Embiid (a league-leading 31.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and a career-best 6.2 assists per game) and rising star guard Tyrese Maxey (a career-best 26.8 points and 7.1 assists per game, both top-15 marks in the league, on sparkling 48/45/95 shooting splits). Embiid and Maxey could have their work cut out for them, though, against a Cavs team that’s been giving up just 105.5 points per 100 with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley on the court this season.
East, Group A
1. Indiana Pacers at 4. Atlanta Hawks, 7:30 p.m. ET (League Pass)
Indiana can tighten its hold on the top spot in Group A with a win, but it might need to tighten things up defensively to do so. Four of the Pacers’ five losses this season have come in games where they’ve allowed the opponent to post an offensive rating north of 125 — which is to say, games in which they’ve served as the springboard for the other guys to play like The Best Offense In NBA History.
Considering Quin Snyder’s Hawks sit in the top five in points scored per possession, offensive rebounding rate and free-throw attempt rate — all categories in which Indy’s defense ranks in the bottom five — we might have a shootout on our hands.
West, Group A
4. Portland Trail Blazers at 3. Phoenix Suns, 9 p.m. ET (League Pass)
Portland will need to put up points to have any prayer of keeping its hopes of a wild-card berth alive, and it sure would be nice to see Deandre Ayton provide some of them. The former No. 1 pick is averaging career lows in scoring, frontcourt touches, usage rate and points per shot attempt, and he never gets to the line; he’s attempted just nine free throws in 409 minutes. The Blazers desperately need something to put a fire in his belly. Maybe a good old-fashioned revenge game against the team that decided it was done waiting for him will do the trick?
Bradley Beal’s ongoing back issues have kept Phoenix from getting an extended look at its hoped-for Big 3, but the Suns have been awfully potent with their holdover Big 2. With Booker (averaging nearly 10 assists per game, thank you very much) and Durant on the floor, the Suns have scored a scorching 131 points per 100 — miles above the best offenses in the league. Have fun scheming up stops against that, Chauncey Billups.
West, Group A
2. Utah Jazz at 1. Los Angeles Lakers, 10 p.m. ET (TNT)
As they continue to struggle defensively without injured rim protector Walker Kessler, the Jazz have had to try to fight fire with fire — and Lauri Markkanen has been all too happy to oblige. The 26-year-old forward has hit the ground running in an effort to author an encore to last season’s All-Star and Most Improved Player breakthrough, averaging 24.8 points and 8.8 rebounds per game on 63.3% true shooting. The only other players hitting those marks this season are MVPs (Embiid, James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokić) and All-NBA First Teamers (Dončić, Jayson Tatum). Decent company!
The Lakers have won five of six since getting their doors blown off in Houston (a defeat LA repaid on Sunday) — and, perhaps not coincidentally, since shuffling their starting lineup. Since moving back to the bench, Austin Reaves has averaged just under 14-6-6 on 51/50/82 shooting; since moving into the starting lineup, Cam Reddish has averaged 12.7 points on 50/46/82 shooting to go with 2.8 steals and a league-best 5.2 deflections per game. Credit to Darvin Ham for shaking things up and putting LA in position to move on in the tournament.
What comes next?
After the final night of group play on Nov. 28, the top eight teams in the East and West — the winners of Groups A, B and C, plus two “wild cards” (the team from each conference with the best record in group play games that finished second in its group) — will advance to the single-elimination knockout rounds. The quarterfinal games will be played Monday, Dec. 4, and Tuesday, Dec. 5.
The four winners will advance to Las Vegas, where the semifinals will be held Thursday, Dec. 7. The championship game for the inaugural NBA Cup will take place Saturday, Dec. 9.; it will be the only game in the entire tournament that won’t also count toward participants’ regular-season record and statistics. For those two teams, it will count as Game 83.
The teams that don’t make it to Las Vegas won’t just sit idly by, either. During the knockout rounds, on the days where no in-season tournament games are scheduled — Wednesday, Dec. 6 and Friday, Dec. 8 — the 22 teams eliminated in the group stage will each play two regular-season games, and the four teams that lose in the quarterfinals will each play a regular-season game on Friday, Dec. 8.
In-season tournament standings
1. Los Angeles Lakers (3-0, +42 point differential)
W at Suns, W vs. Grizzlies, W at Trail Blazers
REMAINING: vs. Jazz, Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET
2. Utah Jazz (2-1, +19)
W at Grizzlies, W vs. Trail Blazers, L vs. Suns
REMAINING: at Lakers, Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET
3. Phoenix Suns (1-1, 0)
L vs. Lakers, W at Utah
REMAINING: vs. Trail Blazers, Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET; at Grizzlies, Friday, 5 p.m. ET
4. Portland Trail Blazers (1-2, -26)
W vs. Grizzlies, L at Jazz, L at Lakers
REMAINING: at Suns, Tuesday, 9 p.m. ET
5. Memphis Grizzlies (0-3, -35; eliminated)
L at Trail Blazers, L vs. Jazz, L at Lakers
REMAINING: vs. Suns, Friday, 5 p.m. ET
1. New Orleans Pelicans (2-1, +23 point differential)
L at Rockets, W vs. Mavericks, W vs. Nuggets
REMAINING: at Clippers, Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET
2. Denver Nuggets (2-1, +9)
W vs. Mavericks, W vs. Clippers, L at Pelicans
REMAINING: at Rockets, Friday, 8 p.m. ET
3. Houston Rockets (1-1, -3)
W vs. Pelicans, L at Clippers
REMAINING: vs. Nuggets, Friday, 8 p.m. ET; at Mavericks, Nov. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET
4. Dallas Mavericks (1-2, -14)
L at Nuggets, W vs. Clippers, L at Pelicans
REMAINING: vs. Rockets, Nov. 28, 8:30 p.m. ET
5. LA Clippers (1-2, -15)
L at Mavericks, L at Nuggets, W vs. Rockets
REMAINING: vs. Pelicans, Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET
1. Sacramento Kings (2-0, +16 point differential)
W vs. Thunder, W at Spurs
REMAINING: at Timberwolves, Friday, 8 p.m. ET; vs. Warriors, Nov. 28, 10 p.m. ET
2. Minnesota Timberwolves (2-0, +10)
W at Spurs, W at Warriors
REMAINING: vs. Kings, Friday, 8 p.m. ET; vs. Thunder, Nov. 28, 8 p.m. ET
3. Golden State Warriors (1-1, -1)
W at Thunder, L vs. Timberwolves
REMAINING: vs. Spurs, Friday, 10 p.m. ET; at Kings, Nov. 28, 10 p.m. ET
4. Oklahoma City Thunder (1-2, +27)
L vs. Warriors, L at Kings, W vs. Spurs
REMAINING: at Timberwolves, Nov. 28, 8 p.m. ET
5. San Antonio Spurs (0-3, -52; eliminated)
L vs. Timberwolves, L at Thunder, L vs. Kings
REMAINING: at Warriors, Friday, 10 p.m. ET
This embedded content is not available in your region.
1. Indiana Pacers (2-0, +11 point differential)
W vs. Cavaliers, W at 76ers
REMAINING: at Hawks, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET; vs. Pistons, Friday, 8 p.m. ET
2. Philadelphia 76ers (2-1, +12)
W at Pistons, L vs. Pacers, W at Hawks
REMAINING: vs. Cavaliers, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET
3. Cleveland Cavaliers (1-1, +3)
L at Pacers, W vs. Pistons
REMAINING: at 76ers, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET; vs. Hawks, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
4. Atlanta Hawks (1-1, -4)
W at Pistons, L vs. 76ers
REMAINING: vs. Pacers, Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET; at Cavaliers, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
5. Detroit Pistons (0-3, -22; eliminated)
L vs. 76ers, L vs. Hawks, L at Cavaliers
REMAINING: vs. Pacers, Friday, 8 p.m. ET
1. Milwaukee Bucks (2-0, +36 point differential)
W vs. Knicks, W at Hornets
REMAINING: vs. Wizards, Friday, 8 p.m. ET; at Heat, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
2. Miami Heat (2-0, +13)
W vs. Wizards, W vs. Hornets
REMAINING: at Knicks, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET; vs. Bucks, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
3. New York Knicks (1-1, +16)
L at Bucks, W at Wizards
REMAINING: vs. Heat, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET; vs. Hornets, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
4. Charlotte Hornets (1-2, -30)
W at Wizards, L vs. Heat, L vs. Bucks
REMAINING: at Knicks, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
5. Washington Wizards (0-3, -35; eliminated)
L at Heat, L vs. Hornets, L vs. Knicks
REMAINING: at Bucks, Friday, 8 p.m. ET
1. Boston Celtics (2-0, +17 point differential)
W vs. Nets, W at Raptors
REMAINING: at Magic, Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET; vs. Bulls, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
2. Brooklyn Nets (2-1, +8)
W at Bulls, L at Celtics, W vs. Magic
REMAINING: vs. Raptors, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
3. Orlando Magic (1-1, -14)
L at Nets, W at Bulls
REMAINING: vs. Raptors, Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET; vs. Celtics, Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET
4. Toronto Raptors (0-1, -3)
L vs. Celtics
REMAINING: at Magic, Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET; vs. Bulls, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET; at Nets, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET
5. Chicago Bulls (0-2, -8)
L vs. Nets, L vs. Magic
REMAINING: at Raptors, Friday, 7:30 p.m. ET; at Celtics, Nov. 28, 7:30 p.m. ET