LAS VEGAS (AP) — Tyrese Haliburton can change his own narrative on Saturday night. And LeBron James gets a chance to add yet another prize to his legacy.
It’s a game that doesn’t count in the standings — but still has a ton of money, a trophy, medals and bragging rights on the line. Haliburton and the Indiana Pacers will take on James and the Los Angeles Lakers on Saturday night in the championship game of the inaugural In-Season Tournament.
Both teams are 6-0 in the event.
The tournament was something that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver wanted for years, likening it to what’s commonly done in top soccer leagues around the globe. James said the other major ideas on Silver’s watch — the bubble at Walt Disney World that finished the 2019-20 season in the early months of the pandemic on the way to the Lakers winning the title, and the play-in tournament — both worked, and he has called the commissioner “a genius” for pulling the In-Season Tournament off.
“We’ve got to finish our breakfast on Saturday. That’s the most important thing,” James said. “But like I said, yeah, he’s pretty good. I said Adam is a genius. He does a great job, for sure.”
James has won four NBA titles and been to the NBA Finals 10 times. He is the NBA’s career leading scorer and has a slew of accolades. Haliburton is essentially just starting out; he was an All-Star last year, got a rookie max extension from the Pacers last summer that will be worth at least $205 million and has emerged as perhaps this season’s breakout star.
But after a loss in Miami last week, Haliburton said this to a handful of reporters at his locker: “Individual success is nothing at this point. I just want to win. I’m tired of being a loser. I’ve got to do a better job of finding ways to win. I’ve got to be better for us to win games. That’s just plain and simple.”
He had 27 points, 15 assists, seven rebounds and no turnovers in Indiana’s semifinal win over Milwaukee in Las Vegas on Thursday. And while it’s not an NBA title, Haliburton has a chance to win something big on Saturday night.
“He’s a great player,” Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “But to be able to have 25 points plus, 15 assists and not turning the ball over, which I had no idea about it, speaks a lot. Speaks volumes about the way he’s playing this year.”
What’s at stake for Lakers, Pacers in NBA In-Season Tournament?
The Lakers-Pacers game won’t count in the standings, since it’ll essentially be the 83rd game in an 82-game season for both teams.
Players from both teams have clinched $200,000 each for making the final; two-way players get half that much. Players on the winning team get $500,000 apiece, so there’s roughly $4.5 million at stake in Saturday’s game.
The winning team also gets the NBA Cup and all players from the championship team get medals.
Pacers coach Rick Carlisle: “We have a dream as an organization to be an NBA championship organization. They won three ABA titles, and that’s a big deal. Winning an NBA title is a dream that’s reachable, but it’s got to be a dream where people can focus on how it’s reachable, and we’re showing signs of that. We’re not there yet. We’re showing signs, and we’re a dangerous team.”
Lakers coach Darvin Ham after his team’s 133-89 rout of New Orleans in a semifinal: “Everybody understands what we’re playing for and what a great opportunity to be in here in this city and in this tournament for us to reveal our competitive spirit top to bottom.”
The tournament caused a couple of schedule quirks from the usual 41-home, 41-road game model.
The Pacers, Lakers and Bucks will all play 41 home and 40 road games this season, with one neutral-site contest (two, technically, for the Lakers and Pacers, though the Saturday game won’t be in the standings). The Pelicans will play 40 at home, 41 on the road and one neutral-site.
The New York Knicks will play 40 home games and 42 road games. The Knicks lost a quarterfinal in Milwaukee and got a road game in Boston on Friday to fill out their regular-season schedule.
In the NBA’s official stats — the Lakers and Bucks have 42 home and 40 road games (the Lakers were the “home” team against the Pelicans), the Pacers have 41 of each (they were the “road” team against Milwaukee), and the Pelicans and Knicks are both listed with 40 at home and 42 on the road.