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Saturday, Feb. 24
The Indiana Daily Student

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COLUMN: Prediction for the NBA Cup Final

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After a pair of impressive performances in the semifinal round, the Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Lakers will face off in the NBA Cup championship on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. on ABC. 

The Pacers have been unstoppable throughout the NBA In-Season Tournament, outlasting the Milwaukee Bucks 128-119 on Thursday. Once again the Pacers’ star guard Tyrese Haliburton stole the show, putting up 27 points and 15 assists with no turnovers, marking his third game this season with 25 or more points, 15 or more assists and zero turnovers. Even with the Bucks’ power duo of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard scoring a combined 61 points on the night, the Pacers outlasted them in the final minutes. The Bucks’ reserves were outscored 43-13 by the Pacers, a prime example of the depth on this Pacers team 

Haliburton took social media by storm with his dagger 3-pointer celebration of staring down at his wrist, just like Lillard does when he makes a big shot at the end of a game. 

“I learned as a kid, when you dish it out, you’ve got to be willing to take it,” Lillard said during his post game press conference after the loss. “For as many times as I’ve done it to people, I can’t be upset when somebody else does it, you know what I mean. I think that’s also a sign of respect and acknowledgment for knowing my history and knowing what I do.” 

Not many people expected the Pacers to make it this far, and all the players know it.  

“We’re shocking the world right now — nobody expected us to be here,” Haliburton said after taking down the Bucks.  

In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers took care of the New Orleans Pelicans 133-89. LeBron James led the Lakeshow with 30 points in only 23 minutes. The 44-point margin of this victory is the Lakers’ most significant this season. Lakers forward Anthony Davis also contributed to the win with 16 points and 15 rebounds in 31 minutes, along with guard Austin Reaves scoring 17 points. Pelicans forward Zion Williamson scored a quiet 13 points while the lack of contribution from guard CJ McCollum and forward Brandon Ingram proved detrimental, shooting a combined eight-of-27 from the field. Overall, the suffering of the Pelicans players to execute on both ends of the floor ended in an ugly defeat.  

“You saw LeBron on full display,” Pelicans coach Willie Green said postgame. “He understands these moments. We got a young team that will eventually get there, but tonight was not our night. We’re all disappointed in it, and we’ll go home. We’ll regroup and continue to improve from here.” 

Now we can see the matchup between the Pacers and Lakers for the NBA Cup. Both teams have performed far better during the In-Season Tournament than in the rest of their schedule. But when comparing the two teams, Indiana’s tournament run haven’t been dominant as they’ve faced more talented teams. The Pacers beat the four teams with the best odds to win the Eastern Conference. However, the Lakers have performed 15.5 points per game better than an average team in their tournament wins 

The Lakers have a strategy down to disrupt Haliburton's power, especially regarding the pick-and-roll. His 0.94 point per chance in the two games against the Lakers last season was Haliburton's sixth-lowest average against any team.  

Yet the Pacers will need to test the Lakers’ transition defense, which has been struggling lately. The Lakers have given up 20-plus fast-break points in three of their past four games. They simply can't afford to give Indiana those opportunities, especially since they are the fourth-best team in adding points in transition.  

The major wild card that will come into play in the game is how far Lakers coach Darvin Ham is willing to go with his star players to win. James had a light load Thursday, and given the Lakers’ massive differential in net rating with him on the court, playing him over 40 minutes could tilt things in their favor. The question is if he can last that long.  

Haliburton and the Pacers have been nothing but spectacular so far this season, and they’ll give the Lakers a run for their money. But when you are going up against LeBron James in a winner-take-all game, I cannot see the Pacers being able to stop him if he is playing the way that he is capable of at full power.  

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