The stage is set for the knockout round portion of the NBA’s inaugural In-Season Tournament. With eight exciting teams and single-elimination games, we’re certainly in for a fun week. The quarter-finals start on Monday, with semifinals and finals games in Las Vegas later in the week. Let’s analyze these quarterfinals matchups.
NBA In-Season Tournament: 2023 Quarterfinals Preview
Knicks @ Bucks
The Milwaukee Bucks and New York Knicks are a very intriguing matchup. Both teams are talented but also have noticeable roster flaws. The Bucks have had plenty of defensive struggles this year after acquiring Damian Lillard, and their half-court offense is a work in progress. The Bucks are still a contender in the East, and to win this tournament. However, the Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo pairing has not been a seamless fit like many predicted. This tournament is a huge opportunity for Milwaukee to build momentum and overcome its issues.
The Knicks are a talented and pesky team. However, their lack of creators outside of Jalen Brunson, combined with Julius Randle’s inconsistent play, is a massive problem. On the bright side, the Knicks have the size and defense to match up with the Bucks. New York can also play several styles, which could make them an outside threat to win the tournament. These two teams faced off last month to kick off the group play games. The Bucks narrowly won by five points but couldn’t find an answer for Brunson. Given the Bucks’ poor perimeter defense, this trend will continue, making it especially important for Lillard to have a big offensive game. Despite Milwaukee’s problems, they have a talent advantage, and the greatness of Giannis makes them the clear favorites.
Celtics @ Pacers
The Boston Celtics-Indiana Pacers first-round matchup projects to be an entertaining track meet. The teams have played once this year, with the Celtics winning in blowout fashion. Although it’s important to note the Pacers were without star guard Tyrese Haliburton. With the top offense in the league and the star power of Haliburton, the Pacers can absolutely pull off an upset. A team with this much offensive power can be dangerous in a single-game elimination format. Additionally, the three-point shooting from both teams adds an element of unpredictability.
Luckily for Boston, they have the shooting and firepower to match up with the Pacers. It’s unclear whether Kristaps Porzingis will be healthy for this game, and his status will impact the outcome. If Porzingis remains out, the Celtics’ perimeter players will be even more important. Jrue Holiday and Derrick White are perfectly equipped to make life difficult for Indiana’s backcourt players, including Haliburton. The Celtics’ elite wing duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown will be especially problematic for the Pacers. Indiana struggles on defense, ranking 29th in the league, and their biggest flaw is their wing defense. Ultimately, the Celtics’ experience, talent level, and defense give them a clear advantage. However, the Pacers’ offense can keep them in the game, and they should not be taken lightly.
Suns @ Lakers
The Los Angeles Lakers-Phoenix Suns matchup is arguably the most exciting one of the quarterfinals. It features incredible star power and arguably the two biggest threats to the Denver Nuggets in the West. The matchup also offers an intriguing clash of styles. The Lakers are built around size, athleticism, and defense, while the Suns have a high-powered offense with great shooting led by stars Kevin Durant and Devin Booker. Watching if the Lakers can compete with Phoenix’s offensive firepower will be extremely interesting. Offense, especially in the halfcourt, has been a struggle for the Lakers, who rank 23rd on that end.
Los Angeles must unlock their offensive upside to make this game competitive. Despite overall great defense, the Lakers’ wing defense is a clear weakness, making the Durant and Booker matchups even more challenging. Conversely, the Lakers’ size could overwhelm the smaller Suns. Similarly, the presence of Anthony Davis could change Phoenix’s offensive approach. Finding ways to put pressure on the rim and not scoring exclusively from the perimeter will be key for the Suns to win this game. I’m leaning towards a Suns win for this game, given their incredible offense and impressive play, even without Bradley Beal. Nevertheless, expect a competitive and entertaining game.
Pelicans @ Kings
The Sacramento Kings-New Orleans Pelicans game is the most surprising quarterfinal matchup. Regardless, it projects to be an entertaining watch. The two-man game of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, combined with the Kings’ elite offense, makes them one of the best teams to watch in the league. Zion Williamson’s incredible athleticism and the Pelicans’ team defense make them a great watch. Both teams have produced quality results despite dealing with injuries. Fox was sidelined with an ankle injury; however, since returning, he has been incredible. The Kings have an 8-4 record with Fox in the lineup and were just 2-3 without him. Fox is scoring at a career-best level, averaging 30.7 PPG. He has crucially developed a jump shot, which has taken his game to another level. The Kings are a dangerous team in the West and could be a dark horse team to win the tournament.
The Pelicans have dealt with key injuries to CJ McCollum and Trey Murphy. However, the team’s high-level defense and improved consistency have helped them stay afloat with a 10-9 record. Williamson is also back to playing at a high level, which has been crucial for New Orleans’s success. This matchup feels pretty unpredictable. It will be hard for the Pelicans to match the Kings’ shooting and offensive firepower. However, their defense and inside scoring could be challenging for the Kings. Ultimately, I favor the Kings in this matchup due to the talent advantage, elite two-man game, and offensive firepower.