Bucks-Pacers, Lakers-Pelicans in Las Vegas for NBA tournament semifinals

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks are used to being on the NBA's biggest stages, both of those teams having won championships in the last four seasons.

The Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans haven't often found themselves in that spotlight.

That foursome — a pair of championship contenders, a pair of up-and-coming clubs — is probably the ideal grouping for the final four at the NBA's inaugural In-Season Tournament. The semifinals in Las Vegas are Thursday, with Indiana facing Milwaukee and New Orleans then taking on the Lakers.

Combined record of those teams in this tournament: 19-1.

“I just want to win,” Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton said. “Whatever it takes to do that, that's what I'm going to do.”

Thursday's games count as regular season games. The championship game on Saturday does not.

There's also a big financial incentive to win in Las Vegas. By making the semifinals, all players on standard contracts have assured themselves of $100,000 from the league's tournament prize pool; players on two-way deals get half of the standard-contract share.

That figure goes to $200,000 each with a semifinal win, and $500,000 each for the players on the team that wins the title on Saturday. And even for players like the Lakers' LeBron James — the league's all-time leading scorer — these games are significant.

“I continue to have this battle with Father Time, that for so long everybody has said has been undefeated,” James said. “I'm trying to give him one loss.”

The matchups:

PACERS VS. BUCKS

Indiana Pacers (11-8, 5-0) vs. Milwaukee Bucks (15-6, 5-0), Thursday, 5:13 p.m. EST (ESPN)

Line: Bucks by 4.5, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series this season: Pacers 1-0 (won 126-124 in Indianapolis on Nov. 9).

Indiana tournament stat leaders: Tyrese Haliburton (28 ppg, 13.4 apg, 5.2 rpg, 1.6 spg), Myles Turner (19 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 2.6 bpg), Obi Toppin (16.2 ppg, .642 FG%), Buddy Hield (15.8 ppg, .596 FG%), Bruce Brown (13.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.8 spg).

Milwaukee tournament stat leaders: Damian Lillard (29.6 ppg, 7.0 apg, .526 3FG%), Giannis Antetokounmpo (27.4 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 6.6 apg, 2 spg, .636 FG%), Brook Lopez (17.6 ppg, 6 rpg, .586 FG%), Malik Beasley (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Khris Middleton (12.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg).

Outlook: Haliburton had the first triple-double of his career in the quarterfinal win over Boston and has put himself into the MVP conversation for this tournament (and quite possibly the season to this point). Milwaukee's offense clicked at a season-best level in its quarterfinal win over New York, with 146 points on 60% shooting. There's no certain bet in Vegas, ever, but expect tons of points: The teams are ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in tournament games in points per game (Indiana 133.6, Milwaukee 129.6), field-goal shooting (Milwaukee .529, Indiana .516) and 3-point shooting (Milwaukee .463, Indiana .445).

PELICANS VS. LAKERS

New Orleans Pelicans (12-10, 4-1) vs. Los Angeles Lakers (13-9, 5-0), Thursday, 9:10 p.m. EST (TNT/TruTV)

Line: Lakers by 1.5, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series this season: First meeting. The teams will play three more times this season.

New Orleans tournament stat leaders: Brandon Ingram (27.4 ppg, 6.2 apg, 6 rpg), Zion Williamson (22.2 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.4 spg), Herb Jones (16.0 ppg, .611 FG%), Jonas Valanciunas (14.6 ppg, 7.8 rpg, .596 FG%), Jordan Hawkins (13.5 ppg).

L.A. Lakers tournament stat leaders: LeBron James (26.2 ppg, 8.2 apg, 8 rpg, .571 3FG%), Anthony Davis (21.2 ppg, 13.4 rpg, 2.8 bpg), D’Angelo Russell (17 ppg, 6.6 apg, .536 3FG%), Austin Reaves (15.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 5 apg), Rui Hachimura (11.2 ppg).

Outlook: James has talked about owning a team in Las Vegas when the NBA inevitably expands once the new media rights deal is completed, and he's clearly motivated by the prospects of being the winner of the first NBA Cup. The Lakers are 10-4 since starting the season 3-5. The Pelicans have been underdogs in all five of their tournament games to this point, and unless the line shifts by Thursday night this will be no exception. They'll have very little burden of expectation on them in this one, which will surely help their chances.

___

AP NBA: https://apnews.com/hub/nba

 

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