NBA In-Season Tournament: What’s at stake this week

NBA In-Season Tournament: What’s at stake this week

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NBA In-Season Tournament: What’s at stake this week
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Top rookies Victor Wembanyama and Chet Holmgren face off Tuesday in a West Group C matchup of the In-Season Tournament.

Election day famously is known as the “first Tuesday in November,” but this week brings us the first Tuesday of the In-Season Tournament, with 10 of this week’s 21 group-play games.

We should start to see some separation, what with 14 clubs currently holding 1-0 records (six in the East, eight in the West). Keep in mind that three teams — the Atlanta Hawks, Orlando Magic and Toronto Raptors — haven’t even played a Tournament game yet.

It’s a little early, but for those curious about the first tiebreaker, points differential in group play, here are some numbers: the Boston Celtics (+14), Denver Nuggets (+11) and Philadelphia 76ers (+8) are the early leaders, with a bunch of five teams sitting at +7.

And for anyone claiming to be confused by the whole affair, please listen to Golden State’s Stephen Curry.


Game of the week

The San Antonio Spurs’ other-worldly Victor Wembanyama matches up against Oklahoma City Thunder phenom Chet Holmgren Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) for what most anticipate will be a long, fascinating and heated rivalry of Western Conference centers. In time, who’s skinnier will matter less than which one (if either) wins Kia Rookie of the Year and whose team fares better in postseasons and championship chase downs.

For now, know that Wembanyama has the more varied skill set while Holmgren has had a better shooting eye and a deeper roster around him.


What’s at stake this week in East

The Pacers and 76ers will square off Tuesday in a key In-Season Tournament game in the East.

Here’s a breakdown of each group’s upcoming week.

East A

• Indiana (1-0): The Pacers face their toughest opponent of the group on Tuesday with a matchup against Philadelphia. The 76ers are first in the NBA’s Eastern Conference standings, but the teams are tied in Group A standings. The Pacers’ high-powered offense didn’t flex much (+5) in their victory over Cleveland but should serve them well for tiebreaker purposes.

• Philadelphia (1-0): The Sixers own the league’s longest active winning streak at eight, with its Tournament victory over Detroit Friday as No. 7 in the run. It has Joel Embiid as the newly minted Eastern Conference Player of the Week, Tyrese Maxey fresh from his 50-piece and scouting reports against these same Pacers from Sunday’s triumph. The Sixers squeeze in a showdown with Boston Wednesday before hitting their third group-play matchup at Atlanta Friday.

• Atlanta (0-0): The Hawks have a week of playing catch-up as they open their In-Season schedule at Detroit Tuesday before the Sixers’ visit Friday. They’ll face the Knicks in between (a non-Tournament matchup). Atlanta’s offense is driving it and driving pretty fast — it ranks sixth in offensive rating (116.2), second in pace (103.5) and fourth in percent of points off fast breaks (15.5%).

• Cleveland (0-1): Some coaches claim the first game home after a long trip can play like another road game. The Cavs’ four-game trip ends at Portland Wednesday, followed by hosting a group-play matchup against Detroit on Friday. Last season, Cleveland swept four games from the Pistons by an average of 21 points each.

• Detroit (0-1): Riding an eight-game skid is no way to prep for a pair of In-Season games this week, with the Hawks in Motown Tuesday before the visit to Cleveland. A glut of young players (though that hasn’t stopped Houston) and injuries have the Pistons seeking answers. Here’s one: No Bojan Bogdanovic (calf) has seen them slide from 32.4 3-pointers attempted per game last season (which ranked 19th) to 29.7 attempts per game (28th) this season.


East B

• Charlotte (1-0): Center Mark Williams leads the league in In-Season Tournament rebounding thanks to the 24 he grabbed against Washington. He’ll need to do better than the four he managed against New York, though, as the Hornets tackle hot Miami and hungry Milwaukee in their Tuesday and Friday group games.

• Miami (1-0): Beat Washington in its first group-play game to end a four-game skid and has not looked back, winning five in a row heading to Charlotte Tuesday. It’s been all about Bam Adebayo during the five-game winning streak: 24.0 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 4.8 apg, 1.6 steals, 1.4 blocks, 53.7% shooting and 7.2 free throw attempts.

• Milwaukee (1-0): Losing Jae Crowder for eight weeks or so to groin surgery won’t help a defense that has fallen from fourth-best in the NBA last season to 25th now. Khris Middleton is playing well but his ongoing minutes restriction has kept him at 21 minutes or less in every appearance.

• New York (0-1): It’s the ultimate small-sample size fact but Jalen Brunson is leading all In-Season Tournament scorers at 45.0 ppg. Next in order: Luka Doncic (39.0), Kevin Durant (38.0) and Donovan Mitchell (38.0). The Knicks face Washington Friday in their only Tournament test in a five-game road trip.

• Washington (0-2): The Wizards gave up 121 points to Miami and 124 to Charlotte in losing twice in the Tournament so far. That average (122.5) at least is better than what the Wizards have allowed in their seven non-Tournament games (124.1). Their next group game is Friday, when either they or the Knicks will get their first victory in this event.


East C

• Boston (1-0) No surprise that the Celtics hold the point differential advantage after their 14-point victory over the Nets. They lead the NBA in net rating (13.6) and plus/minus (13.7), too. The In-Season Tournament game at Toronto Friday will be the second of four consecutive road games, a stretch that begins at Philadelphia Wednesday.

• Brooklyn (1-1): The Nets are undefeated at home overall, which is where they will play their final two games of the Group Stage, beginning Tuesday against Orlando. Injuries continue to confound them, with Ben Simmons (hip) now out. Simmons, at 9.0 rpg, is the only Brooklyn player after two games to rank in the Top 50 in scoring or rebounding.

• Orlando (0-0): The Magic finally get their first taste of this Tournament with its visit to Brooklyn. Orlando is 2-2 on the road so far, and will knock off its two road games of group play against the Nets on Tuesday and Friday at Chicago. That will keep their special court under wraps for another week.

• Toronto (0-0): The Raptors won’t join the fray until Friday at home vs. Boston. By that point, Dallas, Memphis and Oklahoma City all will have completed three of their group-play games. Pascal Siakam has averaged 29 points and 10 boards in his three games, with 39 in Monday’s comeback victory vs. the Wizards.

• Chicago (0-1): The Bulls play host to Orlando twice this week in Chicago, with a non-Tournament game Wednesday followed by a Group Play matchup Friday. That’s it for home games for them, as their last two Group Play contests will be in Toronto and Boston.


What’s at stake this week in West

Here’s a breakdown of each group’s upcoming week.

West A

• Los Angeles Lakers (1-0): This team is well-positioned for what’s left before the knockout round, having beaten the Suns with games this week against Memphis and at Portland. LeBron James (calf) was listed as questionable to face the Grizzlies Tuesday.

• Utah (1-0): Scored a season-best 127 points against Memphis Friday with rookie guard Keyonte George fueling the attack with 11 assists (and despite his own 2-for-12 shooting). Facing Portland Tuesday and Phoenix Friday will make three In-Season games in a row for the Jazz.

• Portland (1-0): It’s probably a good thing the Trail Blazers grabbed their first Tournament victory back on Nov. 3 because injuries could derail their group efforts this week. Malcolm Brogdon, Scoot Henderson, Anfernee Simons and Robert Williams III all are unavailable for their games at Utah and, with the possible exception of Brogdon, against the Lakers Friday.

• Phoenix (0-1): Devin Booker has missed eight of the Suns’ 10 games, the simplest explanation for their 4-6 start. Kevin Durant had 38 points, nine rebounds and five assists in Phoenix’s first test of tourney play vs. the Lakers. He and his crew face Minnesota in a non-group play matchup Wednesday before setting up in Salt Lake City for two games, the first of which will be an In-Season Tournament game.

• Memphis (0-2): Las Vegas? LAS VEGAS?! You can almost hear coach Taylor Jenkins doing a Jim Mora impersonation with the Grizzlies winless in group play halfway through, with games to go against the Lakers and the Suns. Then again, they did win on the road Sunday over the Clippers and get to stick around for Tuesday’s game.


West B

• Denver (1-0): The Nuggets have been humming as an elite team, ranking fifth in offensive rating, sixth in defensive rating and third in net rating. Jamal Murray’s hamstring could hamper them in their two group games this week against the Clippers and at New Orleans.

• Houston (1-0): The Rockets have won six in a row — all at home — heading into their three-game trip that begins (after four nights off) against the Clippers Friday in group play. They are shooting better and distributing the ball more effectively, with a 13% bump in assists from last season’s average.

• Dallas (1-1): The Mavericks beat the Pelicans in New Orleans Sunday, but they stuck around for a rematch that will count in the In-Season standings Tuesday. Then they’ll have to wait two weeks (Nov. 28) for their final group game against Houston. Key for the Mavs so far? It’s the offense, second most efficient in the NBA to buoy the 24th-ranked defense.

• LA Clippers (0-1): The Clippers gave up a season-worst 144 points to Dallas in their Tournament debut but it’s been bad generally for them as they search for a fit with James Harden aboard. They have to play the Nuggets in Denver Tuesday, then host the upstart Houston Rockets Friday.

• New Orleans (0-1): Five consecutive defeats is no way to properly prepare for In-Season games against Dallas and Denver this week. The Pelicans need to figure a way to knit together the talents of their core players, notably Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, a 1-2 punch that is underwater so far when playing together.


West C

• Golden State (1-0): Chris Paul is one of four players who dished 13 assists in his In-Season Tournament debut (and he got them in just 28 minutes). The Warriors’ schedule has them in a loop right now, all at home — their Tournament game against Minnesota Tuesday will be their second straight against the Timberwolves, and they’ll follow up with a pair against OKC.

• Minnesota (1-0): Anthony Edwards has seized this team by the reins and, beyond his dynamic play (28.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.4 apg), has taken the spotlight off the Wolves’ risky Twin Tower concept. That has enabled both Rudy Gobert and Karl-Anthony Towns to look more like their old selves. Minnesota faces a Warriors rematch in Tuesday’s group game and won’t play its next Tournament game until Nov. 24 vs. Sacramento.

• Sacramento (1-0): Coach Mike Brown is a fan of this Tournament, though his team has more things on its mind at the moment. Namely, a six-game trip that begins Wednesday and features group games Friday at San Antonio and, eventually, at Minnesota (Nov. 24). At least De’Aaron Fox is back after a two-week layoff with an ankle injury (he scored 28 in a win vs. Cleveland on Monday).

• San Antonio (0-1): The Spurs have lost five in a row heading into their pair of In-Season Tournament games this week, first at Oklahoma City on Tuesday and then at home against Sacramento Friday. They rank 26th offensively, 29th defensively and hold the NBA’s worst net rating (-11.3).

• Oklahoma City (0-2): The Thunder will play San Antonio Tuesday then wrap up their group play on Nov. 28 against Minnesota. Their point differential of minus-9 needs work after their losses to Golden State and Sacramento, though tiebreakers will be irrelevant if they don’t win out.

* * *

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.



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NBA In-Season Tournament: What’s at stake this week

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