After a wild first quarter of the NBA season, the newly founded In-Season Tournament is making its way to a head as day two of the quarterfinals kicks off on December 5th. The winner of the Knicks and Bucks will face the unsuspecting Indiana Pacers in the semifinals of the inaugural bracket play. Indiana went into Boston on Monday night and booked their flights to Vegas after handing the Celtics a 122-112 loss. The Knicks and Bucks opened up their round robin play of the tournament on November 3rd, resulting in a five point Bucks win, 110-105. All eyes will be on former MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo but my eyes will be on the point guard matchup between Jalen Brunson and the new man in Milwaukee, Damien Lillard. Brunson and Lillard have almost identical stat lines to each other: Brunson averaging 24.9 points per game on 46.7% shooting while dishing 5.5 assists per game, Lillard averages 25.5 points per game on 42.8% shooting and 6.9 assists. These two should battle all game and given their previous matchup this season was a five point differential, I would not be surprised to see this quarterfinal matchup come down to the last possession. If I had to pick a winner I am going to ride with the Knicks given the Bucks bumpy start that is not reflected by their record as well as New York’s necessity to find a rhythm early in this season. Julius Randle has struggled early and if the Knicks can find a way to Vegas I believe Randle will get out of his funk and hopefully turn into the cornerstone piece the front office was hoping for.
The Western Conference will see either the Kings or Pelicans meeting the Suns or Lakers in Vegas for their semifinal matchup. I like the Kings to move on to Vegas after the fast start they have had to the season led by their star big man Domantas Sabonis and flashy point guard De’Aaron Fox. The Kings like to push the tempo in transition and in their sets, which should give the Pelicans a run for their money, especially a newly healthy Zion Williamson. In regards to the Phoenix and Los Angeles matchup, it is all going to come down to Lebron James and Kevin Durant. James has some years on Durant but KD is having a strong start to the season averaging 31 points per game on 51.2% shooting from the field and 49% from three while Lebron is averaging 24.4 points per game on 55% shooting, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.4 assists. James is now in his 22nd season and is averaging over 33 minutes per game which is remarkable for the 38 year old poster boy. This game to me is honestly a toss up but if I had to pick a winner I am going to go with Durant who is in the early murmurs for being an MVP front runner but the Suns do not have the NBA Cup as a high priority in terms of championships while James and company have been very adamant about the tournament from the beginning. We will see how these two superstars matchup up yet another time in their illustrious careers and will definitely be watching this game from start to finish to see who will be meeting either the Kings or Pelicans in Las Vegas to represent the West.