2023 In-Season Tournament

In-Season Tournament: East Group A preview

Take a first look at the 5 teams representing East Group A in the NBA's inaugural In-Season Tournament.

With 3 teams that made appearances in the 2023 playoffs, East Group A has no shortage of talent.

We begin our breakdown of the In-Season Tournament groups with East Group A.

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

This group is headlined by three playoff teams from 2023: the No. 3 seed Philadelphia 76ers (eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinals), the No. 4 seed Cleveland Cavaliers (eliminated in the first round) and the No. 7 seed Atlanta Hawks (eliminated in the first round). Rounding out Group A are the Indiana Pacers (who finished 35-47 in 2022-23) and Detroit Pistons (who went 17-65).

When it comes to head-to-head competition between the teams in East Group A, Philadelphia held a commanding edge against the rest of the group last season. The Sixers won the season series with all four opponents and posted a combined record of 12-2 (.857). Cleveland and Atlanta were each 9-5 against the field while Indiana and Detroit went a combined 6-24 against the field.

The disparity in win percentage (.724) between the top and bottom teams in this group is larger than any other group in the In-Season Tournament.

East Group A

Team vs. ATL vs. CLE vs. DET vs. IND vs. PHI TOTAL WIN%
Philadelphia 76ers 3-1 2-1 3-0 4-0 x 12-2 0.857
Atlanta Hawks x 2-1 4-0 2-1 1-3 9-5 0.643
Cleveland Cavaliers 1-2 x 4-0 3-1 1-2 9-5 0.643
Indiana Pacers 1-2 1-3 2-2 x 0-4 4-11 0.267
Detroit Pistons 0-4 0-4 x 2-2 0-3 2-13 0.133

Philadelphia 76ers

Speaking on James Harden's reported trade request out of Philadelphia, Joel Embiid hopes his teammate returns to realize their potential.

Any discussion of the 2023-24 season outlook for the Sixers begins with what will happen with James Harden between now and the start of the season. Harden opted into the final year of his contract and has requested a trade out of Philadelphia after spending the past season and a half with the Sixers.

We only have to rewind a couple of years to get a hint at how this may play out. When Ben Simmons requested an exit out of Philadelphia, the Sixers did not rush to make a deal. Instead, they were patient and struck when Harden became available from Brooklyn at the trade deadline. Does a similar timeline now await Harden? Or can there be a reconciliation between now and training camp? It should be noted that in the eight games Harden played against the teams in this group last season, he averaged 20.9 points, 12.1 assists and 7.6 rebounds.

Offseason summary (as of July 25)

  • Players re-signed: James Harden (opt-in), Danuel House Jr (opt-in), Paul Reed, Montrezl Harrell
  • Players added (via free agency): Mo Bamba, Patrick Beverley
  • Players added (via trade): None
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): None
  • Players lost: Jalen McDaniels (signed with Raptors), Shake Milton (signed with Timberwolves), Georges Niang (signed with Cavs)
  • Remaining free agents: Dewayne Dedmon (UFA), Louis King (UFA; two-way), Mac McClung (UFA; two-way)

Atlanta Hawks

Hawks guard Dejounte Murray talks about his contract extension and more.

The 2022-23 Hawks had one of the oddest streaks in NBA history as they spent 72 consecutive days within one game of .500. The Hawks hit every iteration of .500 from the time they were 24-24 until they were 39-39. They eventually snapped the streak by going on a three-game win streak to improve to 41-39, but then followed that with two losses to end the season at … 41-41 (aka .500).

The Hawks beat the Heat in the opening game of the AT&T Play-In Tournament to earn the No. 7 seed in the playoffs but lost in six games to Boston. The Hawks made an in-season coaching change, firing Nate McMillan after two-plus seasons and hiring former Utah Jazz coach Quin Snyder. While Snyder was unable to turn things around in the final 21 games of the regular season, he will now have a full training camp and season to establish his mark on the team. The Hawks gave guard Dejounte Murray an extension and dealt John Collins to Utah after the forward had been involved in trade rumors for much of the past two seasons.

Offseason summary (as of July 25)

  • Players re-signed: Dejounte Murray (extension)
  • Players added (via free agency): Wesley Matthews
  • Players added (via trade): Patty Mills (from Thunder)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Kobe Bufkin (No. 15 overall), Mouhamed Gueye (No. 39), Seth Lundy (No. 46)
  • Players lost: John Collins (traded to Jazz), Usman Garuba (traded to Thunder), Rudy Gay (traded to Thunder), Aaron Holiday (signed with Rockets), TyTy Washington Jr. (traded to Thunder), Donovan Williams (waived)
  • Remaining free agents: Trent Forrest (RFA; two-way)

Cleveland Cavaliers

Donovan Mitchell says he is 'excited' for the Cavs' future after their active offseason.

The 2022-23 Cavaliers won more than 50 games and reached the playoffs for the first time since LeBron James’ second departure from the city in 2018. A key to the seven-win improvement from 2021-22 was the addition of Donovan Mitchell, who earned Second Team All-NBA honors in his first season with the Cavs after averaging career highs in scoring (28.3 ppg) and all shooting percentages (61.4 true shooting %).

However, the Cavs were unable to replicate their regular-season success in the playoffs and were defeated in five games in the first round by the New York Knicks. While the end of the season was disappointing, the Cavs return much of the core from last year’s team. They also added Max Strus from the reigning Eastern Conference-champion Miami Heat in a sign-and-trade and Georges Niang in free agency. Strus and Niang add two more shooters to a Cavs team that finished 19th in 3-pointers made (11.6 per game) and 12th in 3-point percentage (36.7%) last season.

Offseason summary (as of July 25)

  • Players re-signed: Caris LeVert, Isaiah Mobley
  • Players added (via free agency): Ty Jerome, Georges Niang
  • Players added (via trade): Damian Jones (from Jazz), Max Strus (from Heat)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Emoni Bates (No. 49 overall)
  • Players lost: Robin Lopez (signed with Bucks), Cedi Osman (traded to Spurs), Lamar Stevens (traded to Spurs)
  • Remaining free agents: Mamadi Diakite (UFA; two-way), Danny Green (UFA), Raul Neto (UFA), Dylan Windler (UFA)

Indiana Pacers

GM Chad Buchanan explains how improving the team's defense shaped the Pacers' offseason moves.

After finishing last season as the first team on the outside of the Play-In Tournament, the Pacers had a productive offseason. They added versatile swingman Bruce Brown from the NBA champion Denver Nuggets in free agency, traded for athletic forward Obi Toppin (via New York) and added two first-round picks in the 2023 Draft in Jarace Walker and Ben Sheppard. They also locked up All-Star guard Tyrese Haliburton with a max contract extension.

In his first full season with the Pacers (and third overall in the NBA), Haliburton averaged career highs in points (20.7), assists (10.4, 2nd in NBA) and assist/turnover ratio (4.15, 6th in NBA). If Haliburton continues to make strides and second-year swingman Bennedict Mathurin — who finished second among rookies in scoring (16.7 ppg) and fourth in Kia Rookie of the Year voting — rises his play, the Pacers should be in a great position to improve on last season’s 35-47 record. They should also be a fun team to watch in the group stage of the In-Season Tournament as a young team looking to make an early statement.

Offseason summary (as of July 25)

  • Players re-signed: Tyrese Haliburton (extension)
  • Players added (via free agency): Bruce Brown
  • Players added (via trade): Obi Toppin (from Knicks)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Jarace Walker (No. 8 overall), Ben Sheppard (No. 26), Mojave King (No. 47), Isaiah Wong (No. 55)
  • Players lost: Chris Duarte (traded to Kings), Oshae Brissett (signed with Celtics)
  • Remaining free agents: Kendall Brown (RFA; two-way), George Hill (UFA), James Johnson (UFA), Gabe York (UFA)

Detroit Pistons

At the 2023 Draft, No. 5 overall pick Ausar Thompson tells Taylor Rooks how he envisions his 1st NBA game against twin brother, Amen.

Since they last made the playoffs in 2019, the Detroit Pistons have gone 80-222 in the four seasons since while finishing 26th, 29th, 28th and 30th, respectively, in wins during that stretch. The Pistons were dealt an early blow last season as star guard Cade Cunningham suffered a season-ending shin injury after 12 games.

Detroit was one of three teams, along with San Antonio and Houston, with the top odds in the 2023 Draft Lottery. However, the Pistons wound up with the No. 5 overall pick and they selected 6-foot-7 wing Ausar Thompson, who averaged 13.5 ppg and 10 rpg in four Summer League games. Adding Thompson and getting Cunningham back will inject some additional youth into the Pistons in 2023-24. There’s a new voice in the huddle, too, as Monty Williams comes aboard with former coach Dwane Casey moving into a front-office role. Lastly, adding veterans Joe Harris and Monte Morris via separate trades gives the Pistons some additional 3-point shooting, too.

Offseason summary (as of July 25)

  • Players re-signed: Isaiah Stewart (extension), Alec Burks (opted in), Isaiah Livers (opted in), Jared Rhoden
  • Players added (via free agency): None
  • Players added (via trade): Joe Harris (from Nets), Monte Morris (from Wizards)
  • Players added (via 2023 NBA Draft): Ausar Thompson (No. 5 overall), Marcus Sasser (No. 25)
  • Players lost: Cory Joseph (signed with Warriors)
  • Remaining free agents: Buddy Boeheim (UFA; two-way), Hamidou Diallo (UFA), Rodney McGruder (UFA)

Key matchups to watch

Below are a handful of intriguing matchups to be played out in East Group A.

Of the 36 total games played between the five teams in this group last season, seven were decided by five points or less. Five of those games featured the Hawks, four involved the Sixers and three included the Pacers. The Cavs and Pistons each only had one such game.

Sixers vs. Hawks, Nov. 17
(7:30 p.m. ET, NBA League Pass)

Two of those seven games decided by five points or less among this group featured the Sixers and the Hawks, both of which were won by Philadelphia. In the first game on Nov. 28, the Sixers got 30 points from center Joel Embiid and a 24-point, 10-rebound game from Tobias Harris to defeat the Hawks despite playing without both Harden and Tyrese Maxey. The second close game happened late in the season and saw the Sixers rest their top six players and still outlast the Hawks in overtime, despite a 27-point and career-high 20-assist game from Trae Young.

In four games against the Sixers last year, Young posted 24.5 ppg and 12 apg as Atlanta went 1-3 in those games. Embiid played in only three games, but averaged 32.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg and 5.0 rpg against Atlanta.

Sixers vs. Pacers, Nov. 14
(7 ET, NBA League Pass)

The other two games decided by five points or less that featured the Sixers came against the Pacers and included one overtime game and two Sixers wins.

On Jan. 4, the Sixers were without Embiid but got a 26-point, eight-assist game from Harden with six other players scoring in double figures to outlast the Pacers in overtime 129-126 in Philly. When the teams met two months later in Indianapolis, we got a wild back-and-forth game that featured 32 lead changes and 24 ties before the Sixers finally emerged with the 147-143 win. That game saw Embiid score 42 points, Harden dish 20 dimes and Haliburton finish with 39 points and 16 assists — one of only two games across the NBA last season with 35+ points and 15+ assists (the other was by Nuggets star center Nikola Jokic).

The All-Stars led the way for both teams in this season series, with Embiid averaging 33 ppg on 65.9% shooting in three games against the Pacers, and Haliburton averaging 24.7 ppg, 12.7 apg and posting 59.1/43.5/100 shooting splits in three games against the Sixers.

Hawks vs. Cavs, Nov. 28
(7:30 ET, NBA League Pass)

After trading double-digit wins early in the season, the rubber match on March 28 gave us the best meeting of the season between Atlanta and Cleveland. The Cavs got 44 points from Mitchell, 27 from Darius Garland and a 20-point, 15-rebound game from Evan Mobley. But it was not enough to counter the balanced effort from the Hawks, who had seven players score in double figures, led by Murray’s 29 points, to earn the 120-118 win.

The Hawks won the season series 2-1 despite the Cavs getting a combined 59.4 ppg from the backcourt of Mitchell (30.7) and Garland (28.7). Atlanta was led by Young (25 ppg, 9.7 apg), Murray (21.7 ppg) and Onyeka Okongwu (17.3 ppg, 10 rpg, 81% FG) against the Cavs last season.

Pistons vs. Hawks, Nov. 14
(7 ET, NBA League Pass)

The Hawks were one of only two teams that Cunningham played against more than once last season (the other being Milwaukee), thanks to a two-game set in late October. In two games against Atlanta, Cunningham averaged 30.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg and 7.0 apg in 35 mpg, but the Pistons lost both games.

Young averaged 31.8 ppg and 10.8 apg (compared to just 1.5 turnovers) in four games against the Pistons last season as the Hawks swept the series.

Sixers vs. Cavs, Nov. 21
(7:30 ET, TNT)

The Cavs finished the league’s top-ranked defense (109.9 points allowed per 100 possessions) and held Embiid, the eventual Kia MVP and scoring champion, five points below his normal scoring average. Embiid’s 28 ppg versus Cleveland was his fifth-lowest scoring average against any opponent last season. The Cavs also held the Sixers to a season-low 85 points in securing their only win against Philadelphia last season, a 113-85 blowout on Nov. 30. That was the only game in the season series decided by double digits.

Pacers vs. Cavs, Nov. 3
(7 ET, NBA League Pass)

The Cavs won the season series 3-1 with Mitchell leading the way at 32.0 ppg, his third-highest scoring average against any East opponent last season. However, it was defense that was key to the Cavs’ dominance of the Pacers last season. In their three wins, the Cavs held the Pacers to just 106.7 points per game. In their one loss, the Cavs allowed 135 points, with four Pacers scoring at least 22 points, led by Haliburton’s 29.


Philadelphia edges out Cleveland to represent East Group A

Will the 76ers will come out of East Group A on top?

Despite the uncertainty around Harden, the Sixers still have the reigning MVP in Embiid and a rising star in Maxey. Those two should keep the Sixers near the top of the East standings and able to hold their own during group play of the In-Season Tournament.

If there is a team that could knock off the Sixers, or potentially challenge for a wild card spot, it would be the Cavs. Overall, they will be eager to erase their disappointing playoff finish and look to start strong when 2023-24 begins.

It will also be interesting to see how the Hawks start the season after Snyder had a full offseason and training camp to influence this team. The Pacers and Pistons could both be fun to watch but are likely a year away from making a major move up the East standings and within this group in the In-Season Tournament.