2023 In-Season Tournament

In-Season Tournament: West Group B preview

The Nuggets, Pelicans, Mavs, Clippers and Rockets are set to compete in West Group B during the In-Season Tournament.

West Group B won’t be short on star power during the In-Season Tournament.

We continue our breakdowns of the inaugural In-Season Tournament groups with West Group B.

East Group A | East Group B | East Group C | West Group A | West Group B | West Group C

West Group B is headlined by the defending champion Denver Nuggets, who posted the best record in the Western Conference (53-29) and the best record in head-to-head play (11-5) among the five teams in this group last season. The Nuggets swept the four-game season series with the Clippers, beat the Rockets 3-1, and split the season series 2-2 with both the Mavericks and Pelicans.

The only other 2023 playoff team from this group is the Clippers, who finished fifth in the West at six games over .500 (44-38) but finished with a 6-9 record in head-to-head matchups with the other teams in this group. Both the Pelicans (10-5) and Mavericks (9-7) were better against the teams in this group. Meanwhile, the Rockets finished the regular season with the worst record in the West (22-60) and it reflected in their record among the teams in this group (3-13).

West Group B

Team vs DAL vs DEN vs HOU vs LAC vs NOP TOTAL WIN%
Denver Nuggets 2-2 x 3-1 4-0 2-2 11-5 0.688
New Orleans Pelicans 2-2 2-2 3-1 3-0 x 10-5 0.667
Dallas Mavericks x 2-2 3-1 2-2 2-2 9-7 0.563
LA Clippers 2-2 0-4 4-0 x 0-3 6-9 0.400
Houston Rockets 1-3 1-3 x 0-4 1-3 3-13 0.188

Denver Nuggets

Check out some of the Nuggets' best plays from their run to the title during the 2023 NBA Finals.

It took 49 years for the Denver Nuggets to win their first NBA championship and hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. Can they claim two titles in a row and win the first-ever In-Season Tournament? With two-time Kia MVP Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray leading the way, it is hard not to see the Nuggets as the favorites in Group Play.

The Nuggets did lose a couple of contributors from last year’s team – notably Bruce Brown (to Indiana) and Jeff Green (to Houston), but the rest of the core remains intact and ready to run it back beginning this fall.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 3)

  • Players re-signed: Reggie Jackson, DeAndre Jordan, Collin Gillespie (two-way)
  • Players added (via free agency): Justin Holiday, Jay Huff (two-way)
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Maxwell Lewis (40th overall)
  • Players lost: Bruce Brown (signed with Pacers), Thomas Bryant (signed with Heat), Jeff Green (signed with Rockets), Jack White (signed with Thunder)
  • Remaining free agents: Ish Smith (UFA)

New Orleans Pelicans

Sam Mitchell thinks Zion Williamson may have figured out how to take care of himself, which means the best could still be coming.

On Dec. 30, 2022, New Orleans defeated Philadelphia 127-116 to win its fifth consecutive game and move into a first-place tie with Denver in the Western Conference at 23-12 (.657). However, those winning ways would soon elude the Pelicans as both Zion Williamson (hamstring) and Brandon Ingram (toe) sustained injuries that kept them sidelined for months. The Pelicans went 19-28 the rest of the season and landed in the No. 9 vs. No. 10 game in the AT&T Play-In Tournament. The Pelicans’ season ended with a 123-118 loss to the Thunder in the Play-In.

New Orleans did not make many splashy moves this offseason, but if it can begin the 2023-24 season with a healthy Zion (53 games missed last season) and Ingram (37 games missed), expect the Pelicans to get off to another fast start and make some noise in Group Play along the way.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 3)

  • Players re-signed: Herbert Jones, Naji Marshall (team option)
  • Players added (via free agency): Cody Zeller
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Jordan Hawkins (14th overall)
  • Players lost: Jaxson Hayes (signed with Lakers), Josh Richardson (signed with Heat), Garrett Temple (waived)
  • Remaining free agents: Willy Hernangomez (UFA)

Dallas Mavericks

After struggling last season, Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic will have a full training camp together to prepare for the upcoming season.

On Feb. 6, the Mavs beat the Jazz 124-111 to improve to 29-26 on the season – tied with Phoenix for the fifth-best record in the Western Conference – and finalized a trade to acquire All-Star guard Kyrie Irving from the Brooklyn Nets. What appeared to be a move to help the Mavs lock up a playoff spot by pairing Irving with Luka Doncic did not work out as planned as Dallas went just 9-18 the rest of the season to finish 11th in the West and just outside the AT&T Play-In Tournament field.

While the duo of Doncic and Irving didn’t deliver immediate results, the Mavs are set to run it back with the duo after re-signing Irving to a three-year contract in free agency. Dallas was active this offseason, re-signing Dwight Powell, adding free agents Seth Curry (in his third stint in Dallas) and Dante Exum in free agency, and acquiring Grant Williams (from Boston) and Richaun Holmes (from Sacramento) via trades. As Group Play gets underway early in the season, all eyes will be on the Irving-Doncic combo to see if they can produce better results than the 5-11 mark they posted when they played together after last year’s trade deadline.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 3)

  • Players re-signed: Kyrie Irving, Dwight Powell
  • Players added (via free agency): Seth Curry, Dante Exum
  • Players added (via trade): Richaun Holmes (from Kings), Grant Williams (from Celtics)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Dereck Lively II (12th overall), Olivier-Maxence Prosper (24th overall)
  • Players lost: Davis Bertans (traded to Thunder), Justin Holiday (signed with Nuggets)
  • Remaining free agents: Markieff Morris (UFA), Frank Ntilikina (UFA), Theo Pinson (UFA), Christian Wood (UFA), McKinley Wright IV (UFA, two-way)

LA Clippers

Check out Paul George and Kawhi Leonard's best dunks from the 2022-23 NBA season.

Paul George and Kawhi Leonard are set to begin their fifth season as Clippers teammates, still looking to lead the franchise to its first NBA Finals. Health has been a major factor in limiting the Clippers’ success as Leonard (161 games played, 52.3% of total) and George (189 games played, 61.4% of total) have both missed significant time in each of the past four seasons.

The Clippers were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round by Phoenix in five games, with George missing the entire series and Leonard playing only two games before suffering a knee sprain that would keep him out the rest of the series. LA is loaded with talent around George and Leonard, but the health and availability of the star duo early in the season will likely be what determines their fate in Group Play.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 3)

  • Players re-signed: Russell Westbrook, Mason Plumlee, Moussa Diabate (two-way)
  • Players added (via free agency): None
  • Players added (via trade): Kenyon Martin Jr. (from Rockets)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Kobe Brown (30th overall), Jordan Miller (48th overall)
  • Players lost: Eric Gordon (waived)
  • Remaining free agents: Xavier Moon (UFA, two-way)

Houston Rockets

The Rockets are turning over a new leaf with the additions of Fred VanVleet and new coach Ime Udoka.

The Rockets entered the 2022-23 season with the second-youngest roster in the league with an average age of just 23.58 years old. Their lack of experience showed as the Rockets struggled for most of the season, finishing the year tied for last place in the Western Conference at 22-60. One silver lining is that Houston’s young talent – Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun and Jabari Smith Jr. – were all able to log big minutes and get some on-the-job training that will hopefully accelerate their development.

Houston was active in the offseason, adding free agent guard Fred VanVleet from the 2019 champion Toronto Raptors and free agent forward Jeff Green from the 2023 champion Denver Nuggets to sprinkle in some experienced players on their young squad. Houston also acquired Dillon Brooks in a sign-and-trade deal with Memphis that involved three other teams. They also added a new coach in Ime Udoka, who led the Boston Celtics to the NBA Finals in his first season in 2021-22. How quickly Udoka can get this mix of players to come together will go a long way to determining how competitive Houston is in Group Play.

Offseason Summary (as of Aug. 3)

  • Players re-signed: Trevor Hudgins, Darius Days (two-way)
  • Players added (via free agency): Fred VanVleet, Jeff Green, Jock Landale, Aaron Holiday
  • Players added (via trade): Dillon Brooks (from Grizzlies)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Amen Thompson (4th overall), Cam Whitmore (20th overall)
  • Players lost: Josh Christopher (traded to Grizzlies), Kenyon Martin Jr. (traded to Clippers), Patty Mills (traded to Thunder), Daishen Nix (waived)
  • Remaining free agents: D.J. Augustin (UFA), Willie Cauley-Stein (UFA), Frank Kaminsky (UFA), Boban Marjanovic (UFA), Darius Days (RFA, two-way)

Key matchups to watch

Below are a handful of intriguing matchups to be played out in West Group B.

Unlike East Group B, which featured a pair of playoff rematches from Miami’s run to the Finals, West Group B does not have any playoff rematches from Denver’s title run or any other playoff team’s playoff run.

Of the 39 total games played between the five teams in this group last season, 10 were decided by five points or less or required overtime to determine a winner. Six of those games featured the Mavericks (4-2), while another four featured both the Nuggets (3-1) and Pelicans (1-3). Meanwhile, the Clippers and Rockets each only had three such games last season, both going 1-2.

Here’s a closer look at some of those close matchups that we’ll see again in Group Play.

Nuggets vs. Mavs, Nov. 3
(10 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Two of the four regular-season meetings between the Nuggets and Mavericks last season were decided by a single point: a Denver win at Dallas on Nov. 20 and a Dallas win at Denver on Dec. 6. However, most of the key plays and leading scorers from these games are no longer with their respective teams.

Denver’s win on Nov. 20 came without Jokic, Murray or Aaron Gordon, but did feature a 29-point performance from Bones Hyland, who was later traded to the Clippers. Dallas’ win on Dec. 6 saw the Mavericks blow a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, only to be saved by a 3-pointer from Dorian Finney-Smith with 17 seconds to play; Finney-Smith was later traded to Brooklyn in the Irving deal.

Nuggets vs. Clippers, Nov. 14
(10 ET, TNT)

The only matchup among this group that required an overtime game as the Nuggets defeated the Clippers 134-124 on Feb. 26 in Denver behind Jokic’s monster triple-double: 40 points, 17 rebounds, 10 assists. Of course, the game almost didn’t need overtime as Paul George made a three-quarter-court heave at the end of regulation that came just after the buzzer sounded.

This matchup featured both teams at full strength as Leonard (33) and George (23) combined for 56 points, while Westbrook added 17 and Hyland scored 10 off the bench against his former team. In addition to Jokic’s 40-point triple-double, the Nuggets got a combined 50 points from Michael Porter Jr. (29) and Murray (21, as well as 12 assists).

Pelicans vs. Mavs, Nov. 14
(8 ET, NBA League Pass)

In their first meeting of the season on Oct. 25 in New Orleans, Dallas had three players combined to score 84 points – Luka Doncic (37), Spencer Dinwiddie (24) and Christian Wood (23). The Pelicans countered that with a balanced attack that saw eight players score in double figures led by Trey Murphy III as New Orleans prevailed despite not having either Williamson, Ingram or Herb Jones.

In their third meeting on Feb. 2, the Mavericks got the win behind Doncic’s 31 points but lost the All-Star guard to a heel injury that opened a window for the Pelicans to rally. Their comeback bid fell short as New Orleans dropped its 10th straight game.

Their final meeting of the season on March 8 in New Orleans came after the trade deadline deal that brought Irving to Dallas but was marred by both Doncic (3rd quarter, thigh) and Ingram (2nd quarter, ankle) having to exit early due to injury. The Pelicans prevailed behind CJ McCollum’s 32 points.

Clippers vs. Mavs, Nov. 10
(8:30 ET, NBA League Pass)

While this group does not feature any 2023 playoff rematches, we have to mention the playoff history between the Clippers and Mavericks as LA eliminated Dallas in the first round in both 2020 and 2021 in the first two playoff series of Doncic’s NBA career.

The first meeting of last season between these teams – on Nov. 15 in Dallas – saw the Mavericks build a 25-point lead late in the first half only to have the Clippers pull off a furious rally to take the lead in the fourth quarter. However, the Mavericks prevailed with a late 3-pointer by Doncic off a broken play, sealing the win and leading to a peculiar celebration from Doncic, who gave the finger to the mouth “Shhh” gesture in front of the home crowd, not usually the one you want to silence.

Rockets vs. Pelicans, Nov. 10
(8 ET, NBA League Pass)

The Pelicans won three of the four games in the season series with the Rockets by double digits, but the one game that was decided by two points went to Houston thanks to a last-second 3-pointer from rookie Jabari Smith Jr. In a season that saw the losses pile up for the Rockets, the joy exuded by Smith and his teammates when he knocked down that pull-up 3-pointer is amazing to watch.


Denver wins the group, Dallas will be in the wild-card mix, while LA and New Orleans could join the Mavs if they stay healthy

Nikola Jokic and the defending champion Nuggets will look to add another big win to their resume.

The Nuggets will enter the 2023-24 season with the championship target painted squarely on their backs. The In-Season Tournament provides an opportunity for Denver to remind everyone around the league that they’re not satisfied with last year’s title and will once again be among the favorites not only for the In-Season Tournament but the NBA championship race.

The biggest question facing the Mavericks entering the 2023-24 season is how Irving and Doncic will mesh with a full training camp and season together as teammates after being thrown together unsuccessfully at last year’s trade deadline. That backcourt is talented enough to beat any team on any given night, but will the Mavericks be able to win consistently?

Health will be the biggest factor to watch when it comes to how competitive both the Clippers and Pelicans will be in the In-Season Tournament. When healthy and playing with a complete roster, both the Clippers and Pelicans have shown they have the talent to come out of the Group Play phase. But those times have been few and far between in recent seasons.