FOX Sports NBA Analyst
FOX Sports NBA Writer
The Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers will go head-to-head in the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament final on Saturday at the T-Mobile Era in Las Vegas.
The Lakers are the betting favorites to lift the NBA Cup after they thrashed the New Orleans Pelicans by 44 points on Thursday, but the up-and-coming Pacers showed that their high-octane offense is capable of giving even the most star-studded teams problems in their 128-119 win over the Milwaukee Bucks in the semifinals.
Let’s take a look at each finalist’s case to win the tournament with FOX Sports’ NBA writers Ric Bucher and Yaron Weitzman:
Why the Pacers will win the NBA Cup
The Pacers right now have the best offense in NBA history. That is not hyperbole. They are scoring at a rate that, if the season ended today, would be a record. They also have a superstar in Tyrese Haliburton, who is clearly embracing his first moment on the national stage and who, over the past week (and really throughout the season) has been unstoppable.
The Lakers are a good defensive team — only six teams have surrendered fewer points per possession so far this season. It’s the other end of the floor where they’ve struggled — they’re 22nd in offense, which is very likely what this game will come down to.
[Related: Tyrese Haliburton and his ultra-fun Pacers make for a must-see NBA Cup final]
The Lakers will likely put in the effort on the defensive end — we know they want this tournament victory, and we know that any team with Anthony Davis in the middle is tough to score again. But the Pacers are still going to rack up points; they, and Haliburton specifically, are too good and too explosive to stop. The bet for the Pacers here is that the Lakers and their streaky shooters are unable to keep up.
Why LeBron is the ‘greatest athlete in American sports history’ | The Herd
Why the Lakers will win the NBA Cup
The greatest lie about the first-ever NBA Cup championship is that it is being held at a neutral site. Not in Las Vegas. Not with the Los Angeles Lakers in it.
Anyone who has attended a Lakers’ Las Vegas summer-league game, particularly on a weekend, can attest to the homecourt advantage that the purple-and-gold enjoy there. Whether it’s making the 4 1/2-hour drive or taking a cheap puddle-jumping flight, Lakers’ fans turn out like no other fan base — and the atmosphere is usually even more raucous and charged, presumably because, A) These are die-hard fans willing to make that investment to see their team live, and, B) A first-come-first-serve scenario inherently brings out a higher percentage of fans less likely to take the opportunity to see — and root and cheer — their team in person for granted.
The homecourt advantage, though, is only one of three intangibles that will be working in the Lakers’ favor when they face the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. Another is big-game experience. The Cup is somewhere between an NBA game 7 in the playoffs and a March Madness NCAA tournament game. Pacers’ star point guard Tyrese Haliburton has never been in an NBA playoff game, much less a Game 7. His college career at Iowa State consisted of one March Madness appearance, where the sixth-seeded Cyclones were upset by No. 11 Ohio State. The Pacers, as a franchise, haven’t been to the postseason in three years.
The Lakers, of course, were just in the Western Conference finals. They are led by LeBron James, who has played in 282 playoff games, including eight Game 7s according to StatMuse.com. His sidekick, Anthony Davis, has won both an NCAA championship and an NBA title. Christian Wood is the only Lakers’ rotational player who hasn’t been to the postseason, whereas the Pacers have three — Buddy Hield, Bennedict Mathurin and Andrew Nembhard.
[Related: Has NBA Cup run gotten Lakers’ season back on track?]
Finally, there’s the third intangible: Motivation. It would be a nice crowning achievement to the start of a promising season for the Pacers to be the first Cup champions. It would signal that they are ready to end their postseason drought and that Haliburton has arrived as one of the league’s up-and-coming franchise players. Then again, they can accomplish all that without winning this game.
That pales in comparison to what this means for James. He is eager to add any and all accolades to his resume in hopes of bolstering his standing among the all-time greats. With several younger, deeper, more talented teams standing between him and a fifth championship ring, this may be his last-best chance to be called the champ of anything.
Homecourt advantage. Big-game experience. Greater motivation. Let’s put it this way: if the Lakers don’t win on Saturday, they won’t have anyone — or anything — to blame but themselves.
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Audacious Process in the History of Professional Sports.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has written two books, “Rebound,” on NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with young onset Parkinson’s, and “Yao: A Life In Two Worlds.” He also has a daily podcast, “On The Ball with Ric Bucher.” Follow him on Twitter @RicBucher.
Get more from National Basketball Association Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more