LOS ANGELES — When it comes to the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament, the details of how it works remain a mystery for some NBA players.
“I still don’t know the rules,” Lakers forward Rui Hachimura said after their home win against the Houston Rockets on Sunday night.
For the Lakers (8-6), the way to advance to the next phase of the event is simple: beat the Utah Jazz (4-9) in their final group-play matchup on Tuesday night at Crypto.com Arena.
The Lakers have so far gone 3-0 in tournament games, beating the Phoenix Suns (Nov. 10), Memphis Grizzlies (Nov. 14) and Portland Trail Blazers (Friday) so far in group play. They’re at the top of the West Group A standings as the lone undefeated team in the five-team group, ahead of the Jazz (2-1 in group play), Suns (1-1), Blazers (1-2) and Grizzlies (0-3).
Eight teams will advance from group play into the knockout rounds: the six group winners and two “wild cards” – the team from each conference with the best record in group-play games that finished second in their group.
The knockout rounds will feature single-elimination games in the quarterfinals (Dec. 4-5), semifinals (Dec. 7) and championship (Dec. 9). The quarterfinals will be held in the better-seeded teams’ home markets while the semifinals and championship will take place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
If the Lakers beat the Jazz, they’d not only win West Group A but would also host their quarterfinals either on Dec. 4 or Dec. 5 since they’d be guaranteed to finish group play with one of the best records in the West. The Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves – both in West Group C – are the only other teams in the West who entered Tuesday undefeated in group play, with both having 2-0 records. They’ll play each other on Friday.
“For me, any time I play a game you compete to win. And, in that sense, it’s no different,” guard Austin Reaves said of the in-season tournament. “But it’d be cool to say [we] won the first in-season tournament. We’re 3-0 right now. Have a chance to go 4-0 against Utah. And got to Vegas to compete for that. Definitely looking forward to that.”
Even if the Lakers lost to the Jazz, they could still advance to the knockout rounds – either by winning West Group A or as the West’s “wild card” team.
If the Lakers lose to the Jazz, they’d need the Suns to finish group play 3-1 so the point differential in group play tiebreaker could be used. If the Jazz beat the Lakers and the Suns finish group play 2-2 or worse, then the Lakers’ lone route to advancing to the knockout rounds would be by being a “wild card” team – which would depend on how teams in other groups finished.
In other words, win, and the Lakers are in the knockout rounds.
“We of course want to go,” Hachimura said after the tournament’s details were explained to him. “Like [Reaves] said, every game for us is really important. We have bigger goals. We’re just trying to figure out ourselves and trying to win the games every time.”
In-season tournament prize pool money will be allocated to the players on the teams that participate in the knockout rounds:
• Players on the team that wins the championship: $500,000 each
• Players on the losing team in the championship game: $200,000 each
• Players on the teams that lose in the semifinals: $100,000 each
• Players on teams that lose in the quarterfinals: $50,000 each
There’s also a financial prize pool for coaches, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“It’s a big block of games,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “I understand the ramifications for that games, an in-season tournament game, but the stretch of games – we came out of three-in-four nights, we’re going into three-in-four nights. It’s felt like a lot.
“So just the biggest thing right now is the recovery. We get our maintenance in [Monday] and be ready to talk about Utah Tuesday morning. We’re just trying to be the best version of ourselves and keep putting the right foot in front of the other.”
When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where: Crypto.com Arena
TV/radio: TNT, Spectrum SportsNet, 710 AM
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