LAS VEGAS — What happened to the Los Angeles Lakers and unconventional NBA championships?
First, they won the 2020 NBA bubble title, and now they are the champions of the new In-Season Tournament, which is a great achievement. The record will show that I have always defended the value of their bubble title, and believe that the mental focus required to achieve the Larry O’Brien Trophy may have superseded what it takes to win a championship in a normal time.
However, it is amazing that this legacy franchise happened to take these two crowns. Alas, LeBron James & Co. deserved all the flowers coming their way after beating the Indiana Pacers 123-109 to win the first ever NBA Cup at T-Mobile Arena.
However, regardless of who wins this title, there is one macro takeaway from the inaugural event that has earned a resounding endorsement from this NBA scribe: For better or worse, this unprecedented episode certainly inspired some serious soul-searching.
For example, the Lakers will go into the rest of their regular season with the knowledge that their approach has real and elite potential. Anthony Davis, whose 41-point, 20-rebound outing recalled his dominant bubble run in Florida, reminded the masses that he can be that man on a big stage.
James, who slaps Father Time’s mouth every day, produced 24 points, 11 rebounds and four assists en route to earning MVP honors. Cam Reddish continues his defensive-minded renaissance. Austin Reaves (28 points) came off the bench. They look like a team that will matter when May rolls around. But that same dynamic also exists in many other teams, and the conclusions reached are not always so rosy.
Here’s a look at some of the other takeaways from the Vegas portion of this IST tournament:
What’s wrong with Zion?
At the time the New Orleans humiliated by the Lakers in the 133-89 semifinal blowout, no one cares anymore that the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson lost. played well in recent weeks. In this historic period, in a game that became the most important of his five-year NBA career that was plagued by injury, he laid the kind of egg that will not be forgotten.
It wasn’t about his line, per se, though 13 points, two rebounds, and a minus-33 mark in 25 minutes told his outing. Like Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley on TNT highlights after the game, it’s more about his looks. Physically. Mentally. All of the above.
To Williamson’s credit, he had it all in his media session afterwards. He used the word “aggressive” nine times while admitting that he was extremely passive. He described himself as “too laid back” and highlighted his porous defense and overall effort.
But none of that changes the fact that he’s raising alarm bells, once again, about the state of his stagnant game and the bigger question of what his NBA future holds. The Pelicans did not give the former No. 1 pick for five years, $231 million in the summer of 2022 with visions of him playing like this, meaning scrutiny will remain until he’s the kind of franchise talent many expect. he will be.
The Pelicans (12-11) continue their season at league-leading Minnesota (17-4) on Monday night.
Bucks have issues
If all you do is look at the standings, you’d think the Bucks are in a good spot. Even with their 128-119 loss to the Pacers in the semifinals, Milwaukee (15-7) is tied for second in the Eastern Conference and third league-wide. That doesn’t exactly trigger crisis mode, does it? Well…
It was the way they lost to Indiana that caused all kinds of panic in their locker room. And when Bleacher Report’s Chris Haynes reported that Bucks big man Bobby Portis “passionately challenged” first-year coach Adrian Griffin and his teammates behind closed doors afterward, nothing It surprised anyone who was paying attention this time.
Among these big changes, from the offseason choice to be replaced by coach Mike Budenholzer with Griffin to the blockbuster trade for Damian Lillard that gave them a two-way terror in Jrue Holiday, there are signs of growing pains throughout the season. The most surprising change is the Bucks’ drastic decline on the defensive end (fourth in defensive rating last season to Today is the 22nd).
Bucks internal concerns seemed to surface after the Pacers game when Giannis Antetokounmpo’s candid news conference raised eyebrows in the room due to his level of frustration. As Bucks beat writer Eric Nehm detailed here, that kind of sentiment is everywhere.
But as for the intriguing effect that comes with IST, it’s fair to wonder if the Bucks would have had that reaction if, say, they had lost to Indiana in Game No. 22 as part of the old regular-season format. It was very suspicious, coming from this place. A spotlight like this is likely to add joy for the winners and pain for the losing teams. For the latter groups, a more critical self-analysis takes place from there.
Of all the things I didn’t expect to do while covering IST in Vegas, writing about Haliburton for consecutive days – and from many angles — not on the old bingo card. But this is the beauty of what the point guard of the Indiana Pacers did in this tournament, because he constantly dazzled in a way that he could not ignore. That aspect of this IST experience should have staying power, giving players and teams that don’t normally compete on center stage a chance to show off for the masses.
Haliburton was not very dominant in the finale due to the size and height of the Lakers (courtesy of Jarred Vanderbilt and Reddish) which is why he was hit. He finished with 20 points and 11 assists, well below his season average of 26.9 points and his league-leading 12.1 assists.
But there was a continuity to his game that was impressive, as he found ways to make an impact despite the Lakers’ dominant defense. With 6 minutes, 43 seconds left in the game, the Pacers were down 100-96 before the Lakers fell behind. The Pacers won’t have much time to dwell on the loss, as they will play Detroit on Monday night.
“Yeah, we’re sick, we’re disappointed,” Haliburton said afterward. “We just lost tonight from the start of the game to the end of the game. Just didn’t get the job done on loose balls, didn’t rebound, didn’t make enough stops when needed. They just beat us and it’s disappointing.
“It’s funny because it seems like everyone says it feels like the NCAA Tournament, but after a game like that you’re sitting in the locker room, most of us don’t graduate, we play on Monday. This is definitely frustrating. We have to take that on the chin. …
“We’ve done a lot of things to get here, played against some good teams and battled, and you can’t let that happen for nothing. If you let this loss come back and we have four games to play road trip to get here, you’ve got to take care of business and run it the right way and celebrate its successes. But at the end of the day, it’s the same as the regular season. It’s Game 22, 23. Gotta keep going. “
Let the IST tweaks begin
When Commissioner Adam Silver gave his pregame news conference, he joked that he was tired of the word “tweaks” about IST. Then within a few minutes of making that declaration, Silver couldn’t help but think about some changes that would inevitably come to the tournament.
However, beyond the discussion about the point differential tiebreaker and the number of games in the IST, there is one particular topic that league circles are focusing on: The future location of the IST.
According to the source of the league, the contract of the NBA in Las Vegas for that tournament is only one year. So while there’s all kinds of momentum in this market, and the related reality that the league is seriously considering the prospect of expanding to Vegas in the coming years, there’s no business commitment to Sin City in 2024. .
(Photo of LeBron James and Tyrese Haliburton: Andrew D. Bernstein / NBAE via Getty Images)