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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    The NBA's in-season tournament quarterfinals are here. Next stop: Las Vegas

    Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum (0) keeps the ball away from Philadelphia 76ers' De'Anthony Melton, left, during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
    New York Knicks guard Jalen Brunson (11) drives at the Toronto Raptors defense during second-half NBA basketball game action in Toronto, Friday, Dec. 1, 2023. (Arlyn McAdorey/The Canadian Press via AP)

    It's four regular-season games in early December. Ordinarily, they'd be forgotten shortly after the final buzzer.

    That likely won't happen this time.

    The NBA's inaugural In-Season Tournament has reached the knockout stage — with quarterfinal games on Monday and Tuesday to decide which four teams go to Las Vegas later this week to play for the NBA Cup and the bulk of a prize pool that will total about $18 million.

    Monday's games have Boston visiting Indiana and New Orleans going to Sacramento. On Tuesday, it'll be New York at Milwaukee and Phoenix at the Los Angeles Lakers. Winners go to the semifinals while losers are out and will play a regular-season game later this week against another team that lost in the quarterfinals.

    "I just want to make every appeal I can to our fans that we need the loudest building possible," Pacers coach Rick Carlisle said. "To show you that no good deed goes unpunished, we draw the team with the best record in basketball. But we do get to play them at home. So, that's something important. We need our building to be as loud and raucous as it possibly can and we need to throw a game out there that's exceptional."

    The Lakers, Kings, Pelicans, Bucks, Pacers and Celtics got to the quarterfinals by winning their groups in the tournament's opening round. The Knicks and Suns got in as wild cards, one from each conference.

    "A lot on the line. Winner goes to Vegas, so I think everyone's looking forward to it," Suns guard Devin Booker said, looking ahead to Tuesday. "It'll be fun."

    The matchups:

    Celtics vs. Pacers

    Boston Celtics (15-4, 3-1) at Indiana Pacers (10-8, 4-0), Monday, 7:30 p.m. (NBCSB, TNT)

    Line: Celtics by 5, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

    Series this season: Celtics 1-0 (won 155-104 in Boston on Nov. 1).

    Boston tournament stat leaders: Jaylen Brown (24.8 ppg, 47% shooting), Jayson Tatum (21.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg), Jrue Holiday (13.7 ppg, 9 rpg, 7.7 apg).

    Indiana tournament stat leaders: Tyrese Haliburton (28.5 ppg, 13.5 apg), Myles Turner (19.5 ppg, 7.8 rpg), Obi Toppin (17.3 ppg, 67% shooting).

    Outlook: Indiana scores (and allows) more points than any team in the NBA this season and earned the right to be home for the quarterfinals against the team with the best record in the league. The 51-point Celtics romp earlier this season was without Haliburton playing, and it certainly has been remembered by the Pacers.

    Knicks vs. Bucks

    New York Knicks (12-7, 3-1) at Milwaukee Bucks (14-6, 4-0), Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. (MSG, TNT)

    Line: Bucks by 5.5, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

    Series this season: Bucks 1-0 (won 110-105 in Milwaukee on Nov. 3 in a tournament game).

    New York tournament stat leaders: Jalen Brunson (28.3 ppg, 54% shooting), Immanuel Quickley (21 ppg, 43% 3-point shooting), Julius Randle (19 ppg, 11.8 rpg).

    Milwaukee tournament stat leaders: Damian Lillard (30 ppg, 7 apg), Giannis Antetokounmpo (25.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 5.8 apg, 62% shooting), Brook Lopez (19.8 ppg, 60% shooting).

    Outlook: The Knicks have given up the fewest points per game in the league to this point, and Brunson had a tournament-high 45-point game against the Bucks. But the Bucks made 20 3-pointers in that game, and now Lillard and Antetokounmpo get to play for one title before continuing to rev up for the one they want most in June.

    Pelicans vs. Kings

    New Orleans Pelicans (11-10, 3-1) at Sacramento Kings (11-7, 4-0), Monday, 10 p.m. (TNT)

    Line: Kings by 4, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

    Series this season: Pelicans 2-0 (won 129-93 on Nov. 20 and 117-112 on Nov. 22, both in New Orleans).

    New Orleans tournament stat leaders: Brandon Ingram (26.8 ppg, 6.3 apg), Zion Williamson (25.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), Jonas Valanciunas (13.8 ppg, 7 rpg).

    Sacramento tournament stat leaders: De'Aaron Fox (36 ppg, 8.7 apg, 8 rpg), Malik Monk (17.5 ppg off bench), Kevin Huerter (17 ppg, 5.3 rpg), Domantas Sabonis (17 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 8.8 apg).

    Outlook: The Kings sure act like this matters to them, given that they've already pulled off comebacks from 18 and 24 points down to win games in this tournament. The Pelicans will be confident after beating the Kings twice, and a win here would send Williamson back to Las Vegas — where his Summer League debut in 2019 was groundshaking.

    Suns vs. Lakers

    Phoenix Suns (12-8, 3-1) at Los Angeles Lakers (12-9, 4-0), Tuesday, 10 p.m. (TNT)

    Line: Lakers by 2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

    Series this season: Lakers 2-0 (won 100-95 in Los Angeles on Oct. 26, won 122-119 in Phoenix on Nov. 10 in a tournament game).

    Phoenix tournament stat leaders: Kevin Durant (35.7 ppg, 7.7 apg, 7.3 rpg, 59% shooting), Devin Booker (30.7 ppg, 8.3 apg, 55% shooting), Jusuf Nurkic (13.3 ppg, 9.8 rpg).

    LA Lakers tournament stat leaders: LeBron James (25 ppg, 8 rpg, 7.5 apg), Anthony Davis (19.8 ppg, 13 rpg, 3 bpg), D'Angelo Russell (19.3 ppg, 7 apg).

    Outlook: The winner of this game will surely feel like the home team in Las Vegas, based on how well the Suns and Lakers typically draw for Summer League games there. James wants to own a team in Las Vegas when the NBA expands. The Suns are 7-2 this season when Booker and Durant are both playing. Booker didn't play in either of the Suns-Lakers games earlier this season.

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