From time to time, NBA.com’s writers will weigh in on major storylines or trending topics surrounding the league.
The knockout round of the in-season competition is here. Which is the last team standing?
Lakers. This week is short, fast, simple and focused, which is what the Lakers both need right now and seem capable of winning. The regular season was long and very big for LeBron James at age 38. Also, keeping Anthony Davis active isn’t always an easy task. But winning three games and quickly pocketing $500K to hoist the NBA trophy far from home in Las Vegas is the 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 Finals matchup and end the opening in-season matchup with another chapter in the league’s most-studied rivalry…but I’m rooting for the Kings from the West against the Celtics. Both teams were victorious on the final night of group play – Boston earned the point difference needed to win their group, while Sacramento rallied to earn a spot on point difference but won the game outright to go undefeated.
Boston has experience in a playoff-like competition and winning the NBA Cup could be a precursor to another trophy come June.
Celtics. The tournament final should favor who is best prepared to win now, not necessarily in June (for that other championship). That defines the Celtics, more than anyone else in the rest of the field. The Celtics aren’t on the rise (Pacers, Knicks, Kings) or happy to be here (Pelicans). They have an MVP candidate in Jayson Tatum and plenty of solid, mature help. It’s not like the franchise won a meaningful championship (haha), so there’s an incentive.
Celtics. I’d like to be ironic, but it’s tough to pick against a team that averaged 3.7 points per 100 possessions over the other seven teams in the quarterfinals. Even with Kristaps Porzingis out, Boston has an impressive starting five that will lean heavily. We know they’re taking this seriously, and we shouldn’t be surprised if they wake up big in Indiana on Monday night. They have outscored opponents by 25.9 points per 100 possessions in the first quarter, the best mark of any team in any quarter.
Michael C. Right
Celtics. From top to bottom, every team and every player in the quarterfinals has the talent to walk away from the tournament sitting on an extra $500K. So, it comes down to a sense of urgency.
Coach Joe Mazzulla and the Celtics showed that Tuesday in group play against the Bulls. Familiar with the rules and tiebreaking procedures, Mazzulla implemented a strategy to hack Andre Drummond to improve point differential and capture tiebreakers over Orlando and Brooklyn to reach the knockout rounds.
Unpopular, but Boston was ready. Armed with the league’s most talented roster, the Celtics will grind harder than anyone else.
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