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Sin City awaits as NBA In-season Tournament reaches knockout stage

The NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament breaks new ground again this week with stars including LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo gearing up for quarterfinal clashes on Monday and Tuesday. Four-time NBA champion James has made no secret of the fact that he’d love to add a new accomplishment to his resume in his 21st season in the league. His Los Angeles Lakers reached the quarterfinals as unbeaten group winners and will take on the wild card Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, when Antetokounmpo’s Milwaukee Bucks host the wild card New York Knicks. On Monday, the Indiana Pacers host the Boston Celtics and the Sacramento Kings host the New Orleans Pelicans, all eight teams vying to reach the semifinals in Las Vegas on December 7. The title game is on December 9 in Vegas — where the finalists will be competing for the first NBA Cup and for the $500,000 in prize money per player on the winning team.

“It will be a heavyweight match in LA,” Suns guard Devin Booker said. “A lot on the line, winner goes to Vegas. So I think everyone is looking forward to it. It will be fun.” The Lakers have beaten the Suns twice this season, including in the group stage of the tournament. Suns star Kevin Durant is averaging 31 points per game, third best in the league. James, meanwhile, has dazzled as his 39th birthday approaches even as the Lakers coped with a string of injuries. “The most impressive thing is at what stage in his career he’s doing it in,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “He’s breaking barriers, it seems like, every day.” Four of the league’s top 10 scorers are in the quarterfinals — Durant at No. 3, Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox at No. 4, Antetokounmpo at No. 5 and Boston’s Jayson Tatum at No. 9. Indiana’s Tyrese Haliburton leads the league in assists, keying a high-octane offense that has the Pacers scoring 123.8 points per 100 possessions this season.

Loud and raucous

The Celtics blew out the Pacers 155-104 on November 1 in Boston. Haliburton missed that game, but Indiana coach Rick Carlisle admitted his team will have their work cut out to advance against a Celtics team that at 15-4 shares the best record in the league. “But we do get to play them at home. So, that’s something important,” Carlisle said. “We need our building to be as loud and raucous as it possibly can and we need to throw a game out there that’s exceptional.” Like the Lakers, the Bucks advanced with a 4-0 record in group play, including a 110-105 win over the Knicks. “It would be pretty cool to be part of history,” Bucks forward Khris Middleton said of potentially winning the first NBA Cup. “You always want to be the first to win something. So, it would definitely be cool to win the first In-Season Tournament.” For Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, the tournament could be a springboard to playoff success. “For us, we haven’t won nothing,” Williamson said as the team looked toward their Monday clash with Sacramento. “I think that would be a starting step to try to go and win that.”