NBA In-Season Tournament scores, takeaways: Lakers, Nuggets among teams separating themselves

NBA In-Season Tournament scores, takeaways: Lakers, Nuggets among teams separating themselves

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NBA In-Season Tournament scores, takeaways: Lakers, Nuggets among teams separating themselves
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The third night of the NBA’s first-ever In-Season Tournament is officially in the books, and despite some blowouts in the middle slots, it was generally another night of exciting basketball. All three early games came down to the final minutes, and then the nightcaps provided some of the most fun games of the tournament so far.

The Warriors and Timberwolves got into a brawl before a single basket was scored, and that forced Golden State to play without the three pillars of its dynasty: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. Yet they still made it a three-point game, ultimately losing 104-101 despite the heroics of Brandin Podziemski. That wasn’t even the night’s most exciting game. The Clippers, who entered Tuesday 0-4 with James Harden, mounted a thrilling comeback after trailing by 13 to take the lead early in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, though, Nikola Jokic was too much for them and Denver pulled out the 111-108 win.

In-Season Tournament scores

  • Hawks 126, Pistons 120
  • Pacers 132, 76ers 126
  • Heat 111, Hornets 105
  • Nets 124, Magic 104
  • Thunder 123, Spurs 87
  • Pelicans 131, Mavericks 110
  • Jazz 115, Blazers 99
  • Nuggets 111, Clippers 108
  • Timberwolves 104, Warriors 101
  • Lakers 134, Grizzlies 107

With three nights of tournament play now behind us, we’re starting to get a clearer picture of of what to expect the rest of the way (you can check out the standings here). So here are the biggest takeaways from tonight’s action:

The group favorites are starting to present themselves

We have six groups making up the first stage of the In-Season Tournament, and with several teams having played multiple games, we now know who the favorites are in most of them.

  • In East Group A, the Indiana Pacers have already slain the two giants of the field: the Philadelphia 76ers and Cleveland Cavaliers. They are now heavy favorites to advance to the knockout stage.
  • East Group B is probably the most muddled. The Miami Heat are 2-0, but they’ve only played the two lightweights in the group (Charlotte and Washington). Their showdown with 1-0 Milwaukee will likely determine who wins this group.
  • East Group C will still likely belong to Boston. The Celtics are 1-0, but their lone victory is against the 2-1 Nets. That’s a valuable tiebreaker in a weak group. Now, if Brooklyn finishes the job with a win over Toronto, Boston can clinch the group by going 2-1 against the Bulls, Magic and Raptors. That’s an entirely attainable goal, but keep an eye on the Nets as a possible East wildcard team.
  • Both the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Lakers are 2-0 in West Group A. However, the Lakers have already beaten Phoenix, the toughest team in the group. That makes the Lakers heavy favorites, and they’ll effectively clinch the group if they beat Utah next Tuesday.
  • West Group B will almost certainly belong to Denver. The Nuggets have beaten the Mavericks and Clippers, the two hardest teams in the group. If they do stumble, though, it’s likely because their games against the Pelicans and Rockets are both on the road.
  • Minnesota controls West Group C with a 2-0 record. The Timberwolves have won both games on the road, so if they can protect home court against the Kings and Thunder, they will advance.

The wild card situation will still need time to shake out, but we’re starting to get some idea of who will actually advance to the knockout stage here.

Two contenders likely bow out

We should note that two group-stage losses do not technically disqualify a team from the tournament. A five-way, 2-2 group tie can still lead to a .500 team advancing, but that is obviously unlikely. The only way a 2-2 team can earn a wild card slot is if no non-group winners go 3-1. Effectively, that means that once a team has lost its second group stage game, it is unlikely to make it out of the group stage.

We entered Tuesday with the Thunder, Grizzlies and Wizards likely knocked out in this fashion. Two teams joined them tonight: the Clippers and Mavericks. Both would have been dangerous in a single-elimination setting, but with two losses, their road to advancement is now almost certainly gone. That’s part of the fun of the In-Season tournament as teams don’t have giant sample sizes to work with. It’s win right away or fall out of the running.

Championship hopefuls figuring things out

The Warriors and Clippers both lost on Tuesday, but, in the process, they might have figured some things out about themselves. Let’s start with the Warriors. Brandin Podziemski scored 23 points for Golden State in defeat. That is the highest point total a non-Curry Warrior has posted this season. Scoring has been a serious problem for Golden State when Curry isn’t going nuclear. Should they invest more minutes in their rookie and see if he pops a bit? Tuesday suggested that they should.

The Clippers, meanwhile, finally took the first real step towards figuring out how to manage its ball-handler glut. They staggered James Harden and Russell Westbrook more aggressively than they ever have despite still starting them together, and it led to Harden’s best game as a Clipper. He scored 21 points and spearheaded the third-quarter comeback that nearly led to the upset. If he is going to be comfortable running this offense, it has to come with shooters around him, not Westbrook.

These are the sort of things teams can learn in the right regular season games. We’re still very early in the season, and identities haven’t yet been formed. The Clippers and Warriors took steps in the right direction on Tuesday, even if they didn’t pick up badly-needed victories.



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NBA In-Season Tournament scores, takeaways: Lakers, Nuggets among teams separating themselves

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