Periodically, NBA.com’s writers will weigh in on key storylines or trending topics around the league.
The Knockout Rounds stage of the In-Season Tournament has arrived. Which team will be the last one standing?
Lakers. This week is short, fast, simple and focused, which the Lakers both need right now and seem capable of winning. The regular season is long and too vast for LeBron James at age 38. Plus, keeping Anthony Davis active hasn’t always been the easiest task. But winning three games to hoist the NBA Cup not far from home in Las Vegas and pocket a quick $500K is a quick hurdle that could bring momentum to this team’s season. My runner-up: Boston, because the Celtics are the most talented team in the league.
Celtics. It’s tempting to pick a Lakers-Celtics final and have the inaugural In-Season Tournament decided with another chapter in the league’s most-storied rivalry … but I have the Kings coming out of the West to take on the Celtics. Both teams delivered on the final night of Group Play — Boston got the point differential needed to win their group, while Sacramento rallied to not only secure a spot via point differential but won the game outright to go undefeated.
Boston has the experience edge in playoff-like competition and winning the NBA Cup could be a precursor of another trophy come June.
Celtics. The tournament’s final stretch should favor who’s best equipped to win now, not necessarily in June (for that other championship). And that defines the Celtics, more than anyone in the remaining field. The Celtics aren’t on the rise (Pacers, Knicks, Kings) or just happy to be here (Pelicans). They have an MVP candidate in Jayson Tatum and lots of solid, mature help. It’s not like the franchise has ever won a meaningful championship (haha), so there’s an incentive, too.
Celtics. I’d love to be a contrarian, but it’s tough to pick against the squad that’s been 3.7 points per 100 possessions better than any of the other seven teams in the quarterfinals. Even with Kristaps Porzingis out, Boston has a terrific starting five that it will lean on heavily. We know that they’re taking this thing seriously and we shouldn’t be surprised if they’re up big early in Indiana on Monday night. They’ve outscored their opponents by 25.9 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the best mark for any team in any quarter.
Michael C. Wright
Celtics. Top to bottom, every team in the quarterfinals possesses the talent to leave the tournament with each player sitting on an extra $500K. So, this comes down to a sense of urgency.
Coach Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics showed that Tuesday in Group Play against the Bulls. Well-versed in the rules and tiebreaking procedures, Mazzulla implemented a strategy to hack Andre Drummond to enhance point differential and reached the Knockout Rounds by seizing the tiebreaker over Orlando and Brooklyn.
Unpopular, yet Boston was willing. Armed with arguably the league’s most talented roster, the Celtics will simply grind harder than everybody else.