The In-Season Tournament schedule is out now. Enjoy Basketball takes a look at some of the most exciting matchups in Group Play.
The questions “how do we make the NBA regular season more engaging for fans, and more consequential for players and teams?” were answered the moment the NBA announced implementation of an In-Season Tournament.
Now, with the release of the In-Season Tournament schedule, the when of those questions have been answered, too. We’re here to break down a few of our favorite matchups in each group. But before we do, we’ll give you a refresher course on how exactly the tournament works. (It’s new for us too, don’t worry.)
Each conference is split into three groups, consisting of five teams each. The five teams in each group will participate in Group Play — meaning they will play every team in their group one time. The winner of each group will advance to the Knockout Stage, along with one “wild card” team from each conference. The team with the best record in each conference that didn’t win its group will earn the wild card spot.
Then, the eight teams remaining will play in a single-elimination Knockout Stage, with the four semi-finalists heading to Las Vegas for a shot at the NBA Cup trophy.
All caught up? Perfect. Let’s look at some of the most exciting matchups on the schedule.
Our gut tells us that you don’t need an explainer on why this game will be a must-watch. But sometimes our gut tells us to eat gas station sushi. So, whatever. We’re going to tell you anyway. LeBron James and Kevin Durant haven’t squared off in the regular season since Christmas Day 2018 — it doesn’t seem possible, but it’s true. Now, they’ll be dueling with more on the line than pretty much any November game of the past. And they’ll be doing so on national TV? We’re so spoiled.
This Texas rivalry will be considerably hotter in 2023-24 than it has been the past few seasons. Houston had money to spend over the summer, and it did just that, completely revamping its roster by adding Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks and rookies Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore. Add some established veterans to the continued development and Alperen Sengun and Jalen Green and the equation in Houston is suddenly looking pretty bright.
Dallas still has Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving. Those two are reason enough to watch any Mavs game.
We’re not sure if this matchup can quite be considered a “rivalry,” but we are sure that Nikola Jokic, Kawhi Leonard, Jamal Murray and Paul George supply enough star power for Nuggets-Clippers to be one of the most fun matchups league-wide. Their contradicting play styles — LA relies heavily on a pair of star wing scorers, while Denver’s offense runs through its center and point guard — makes for a fascinating chess match every time.
Everything about last season’s Warriors vs. Kings playoff series reaffirmed why we love this sport so much. The arenas were deafening, the players’ passion shined through from tipoff to buzzer and the games themselves had us sweating like we were getting 32 minutes a night. So, yeah, we’d like to do that all again.
Wemby vs. Chet, round one. Two of the most unique prospects we’ve seen in the last decade of the NBA will face off for the first time in Group Play when San Antonio visits Oklahoma City. We don’t exactly know what to expect, considering both players are still rookies, after all — but we do know that both players have enough talent to usher in a new (and very tall) era in the NBA.
When a 25-year-old All-NBA guard (aka Shai Gilgeous-Alexander) isn’t the main storyline of a game, you know it’s going to be a fun night.
A new day is dawning for both of these historic franchises. In Detroit, the spectacular trio of Cade Cunningham, Jaden Ivey and Ausar Thompson will be a nightmare to game plan against for a long time. Indiana, meanwhile, had a wonderful summer, signing NBA champion Bruce Brown, trading for the always-thrilling Obi Toppin and drafting stupendously versatile rookie Jarace Walker to surround their superstar in the making Tyrese Haliburton — who is about ready to shed that “in the making” tag, too.
You like young talent and fervent fans? Tap in. You don’t? Stop lying.
Sometimes there’s not much to say about a matchup other than “Yeah, that sounds like a delightful game.” This is one of those instances. Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley make up one of the league’s most formidable defensive frontcourts. But Joel Embiid is basically as strong as two people by himself — making the battle down low in this matchup a joy to watch. Philadelphia fans will get ruckus for any — and every — occasion. So, adding extra incentive to November games will undoubtedly have Wells Fargo Center sounding like even more of a madhouse.
The NBA playoffs move at such a screaming pace that we understand if you sometimes forget the specific details of a first round matchup.
But we don’t see how you could forget any details of last year’s Miami vs. Milwaukee first-round series, in which Jimmy Butler sent a basketball-playing robot to fill in for his human self and Miami started its historic run to the NBA Finals. Scenes from that series will be seared in our consciousness for years to come. And now we get to watch these teams face off again with In-Season Tournament seeding on the line? We’re sold.
(We don’t actually think Butler replaced himself with a robot in the 2023 playoffs, for the record. But it felt like he did.)
The East is chock full of teams whose rosters you look at and say, “Yeah, they could make a big surge up the standings this season.” Orlando might be the leader of that group. Paolo Banchero averaged more than 20 points per game as a rookie (not normal!). Franz Wagner continues to refine his two-way game and is well on his way to becoming a star in his own right. And 6-foot-7 rookie Anthony Black is going to stun some folks with the creativity and fluidity he possesses as a 19-year-old. Boston, on the other hand, has already established itself as one of the NBA’s elite teams. But apparently that wasn’t enough for them, so they went out and traded for Kristaps Porzingis.
Orlando has endless young talent — watching how they match up against one of the NBA’s premier squads will be a great test for them, and a fun game to take in.