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Monday, March 4
The Indiana Daily Student

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COLUMN: Predictions for the NBA In-Season Tournament semifinals

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Eastern semifinals results:  

The Indiana Pacers beat the Boston Celtics 122-112 on Monday while the Milwaukee Bucks beat the New York Knicks 146-122 on Tuesday.  

The Pacers and Bucks will face off at 5 pm Thursday on ESPN.  

Western semifinals results:  

The New Orelans Pelicans beat the Sacramento Kings 127-117 on Monday while the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Phoenix Suns 106-103 on Tuesday. 

The Pelicans and Lakers will face off at 9 pm Thursday on TNT and truTV  

East semifinal: Indiana Pacers vs. Milwaukee Bucks 

Since watching the Knicks vs. Bucks game Tuesday night, my impression of the Bucks during the tournament has transformed simply because of how good forward Giannis Antetokounmpo has been. Antetokounmpo is once again looking like a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award, averaging 30.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.2 assists this season.  

Milwaukee played one of its best games Tuesday, scoring 146 points and finishing 23-for-38 from the 3-point line to capture the win against New York. When guard Damian Lillard and Antetokounmpo share the floor for the Bucks, they have the capacity to generate 116.5 points per 100 possessions. But Milwaukee isnt even at full power when Lillard and Antetokounmpo are on the court together.  

Forward Khris Middleton and center Brook Lopez are significant factors for the Bucks offensive movement away from the ball and help defense on the other end. The Bucks will need to keep up their strong defensive performances because the Pacers are ranked first all-time in efficiency and are generating 9.22 more points per 100 possessions than the entire NBA. 

The matchup between Lillard and Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton will be a great watch as they are two talented point guards with different styles of play. Haliburton is coming off of a 26 point triple-double with zero turnovers against the Boston Celtics. The Pacers need to improve their defense — they focus significantly on forbidding 3-point shots — because when going against the Bucks, their top priority needs to be inside the paint and near the free throw line. Their defense is filled with more vulnerable players like forward Obi Toppin and guard Bennedict Mathurin.  

Veteran Pacer forward Myles Turner is only averaging two blocks per game and cannot defend the rim like he should because he is far from it. To win, the Bucks need their two superstars — Lillard and Antetokounmpo — to get points on the scoreboard. The veterans on the team and the advantage of experience will win them this game.  

Winner: Bucks 

West semifinal: New Orleans Pelicans vs. Los Angeles Lakers  

The New Orleans Pelicans are finally healthy, and the team's depth was on full display Monday night in their 10-point win against the Sacramento Kings. Pelicans star forwards Brandon Ingram and Zion Williamson are getting support by role players like guard Jose Alvarado and forward Trey Murphy III. Many also forget guard CJ McCollum has entered the starting lineup and proved himself to be a top outside threat. 

Head coach Willie Green made some questionable decisions during Monday’s game as Williamson spent a decent amount of time on the bench for long stretches while the Pelicans played small lineups. Williamson played 26 minutes, barely playing in the fourth quarter. Benching your franchise player in the most significant moments of a playoff or in-season tournament game is ultimately not a good idea.  

In his 21st season, there are games in which Lakers star forward LeBron James looks like he is still in his prime. James had 31 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists to capture the win.  

Many think the timeout call made by the Lakers with 7.4 seconds left caused the Suns to lose, but it was mainly because they didn’t take care of the ball. The Suns had 22 turnovers, and the Lakers caught on and acted more on defense and generated 25 points. It also helps the Lakers that forward Anthony Davis is finally showing up to play and looking like his usual double-double self. As many of us know, though, Davis has failed to highlight his talent in big-time games like this. So, we cannot rely on Davis playing like his usual self against the Pelicans. 

We’ve seen the consistency of young guard Austin Reaves that has kept Lakers fans’ hopes alive for the future. A big difference between the two teams is that the depth of the Lakers bench doesn’t compare to the Pelicans. Once again, this game will come down to the trio of James, Davis and Reeves playing at a higher level than they should. But with Davis’ history in these types of games, I can't see them winning.  

Winner: Pelicans

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