Drama unfolds as NBA phase ends

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0)looks to take a foul shot in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum (0)looks to take a foul shot in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

MIAMI -- Say this for the NBA: It will have some drama for the final night of group play in the inaugural In-Season Tournament.

There are eight games left -- all potentially having implications on who will advance.

All teams play four games in the group stage; 14 teams are already done and the other 16 teams wrap up their group slates today. Every group winner will reach the quarterfinals, and the best second-place team from each conference will earn a wild-card spot.

There's a really good chance that tiebreakers to separate teams with 3-1 (or maybe even 2-2) records will come into play. The first tiebreaker is head-to-head, and the second is point differential -- which certainly raises the possibility that a team with a lead as time is running out in an already-decided game might look for more points in the final seconds.

"We'll just focus on trying to get a win tomorrow," said Miami Coach Erik Spoelstra, whose team plays host to Milwaukee today. "That's the most important thing. We know what the differential has to be. You can't go into a game thinking that. That's not how you win games against good teams."

Indiana and the Los Angeles Lakers are the only two teams that have secured quarterfinal spots. Both went 4-0 in group play and are assured of having a home game for the start of the knockout round next week -- either Dec. 4 or Dec. 5.

From there, 16 teams remain alive for the remaining six quarterfinal spots. The easiest things to figure out are these: if Milwaukee beats Miami and if Sacramento beats Golden State, then the Bucks and Kings will be the other two quarterfinal hosts.

Other than that, good luck figuring out all the possible tiebreakers.

"I know Tuesday is complicated," Boston forward Jayson Tatum said. "There's a million different things that can happen. So, that (stuff) is a little tricky. But I think it's been great. It gives guys something to look forward to early in the season."

The Celtics are one of the teams that could see their tournament fate decided by the point differential tiebreaker. Tatum likes the tournament in general; that tiebreaker, not so much.

"It's all about respecting the game and respecting your opponents," Tatum said. "So, that part, I'm not a fan of."

WHO IS STILL ALIVE?

This one is easy: the Pacers and Lakers are in, and the other six quarterfinal spots will go to some combination of these teams: Cleveland, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Milwaukee, New York, Miami, Charlotte, Orlando, Boston, Brooklyn, Phoenix, New Orleans, Houston, Sacramento, Minnesota and Golden State.

WHO IS OUT?

Detroit, Washington, Toronto, Chicago, Utah, Portland, Memphis, Denver, Dallas, the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City and San Antonio have been eliminated.

EAST GROUP A

STANDINGS Indiana 4-0, Cleveland 2-1, Philadelphia 2-2, Atlanta 1-2, Detroit 0-4.

TODAY'S GAME Atlanta at Cleveland.

OUTLOOK Must-win for Atlanta, and the Hawks would still need a lot of help to advance. Cleveland eliminates Philadelphia and Atlanta with a win, but it probably needs to be by a sizable margin to give the Cavs much hope of advancing.

EAST GROUP B

STANDINGS Milwaukee 3-0, New York 2-1, Miami 2-1, Charlotte 1-2, Washington 0-4.

TODAY'S GAMES Charlotte at New York, Milwaukee at Miami.

OUTLOOK The Bucks, Knicks and Heat could all still win the group. Charlotte can advance if the Cavs, Knicks, Heat, Boston and Brooklyn all lose, and even then the Hornets would have to beat the Knicks by a lot. Like, a whole lot.

EAST GROUP C

STANDINGS Orlando 3-1, Boston 2-1, Brooklyn 2-1, Toronto 1-2, Chicago 0-3.

TODAY'S GAMES Chicago at Boston, Toronto at Brooklyn.

OUTLOOK The Bulls and Raptors can play spoilers. If Brooklyn loses, Orlando wins the group (and the Magic could win it other ways, too). Boston must win to have a chance.

WEST GROUP A

STANDINGS Los Angeles Lakers 4-0, Phoenix 3-1, Utah 2-2, Portland 1-3, Memphis 0-4.

TODAY'S GAMES None.

OUTLOOK The Suns will sit around to find out their fate. They would advance with a Minnesota loss to Oklahoma City. Otherwise, tiebreakers come into play.

WEST GROUP B

STANDINGS New Orleans 3-1, Houston 2-1, Denver 2-2, Dallas 1-2, Los Angeles Clippers 1-3.

TODAY'S GAME Houston at Dallas.

OUTLOOK Finally, an easy one. If Houston beats Dallas, the Rockets win Group B. If Dallas beats Houston, New Orleans wins Group B.

WEST GROUP C

STANDINGS Sacramento 3-0, Minnesota 2-1, Golden State 2-1, Oklahoma City 1-2, San Antonio 0-4.

TODAY'S GAMES Golden State at Sacramento, Oklahoma City at Minnesota.

OUTLOOK The Kings win the group with a win. The Warriors need a win to have a chance to advance as a wild-card or the group winner. Minnesota also needs a win to have any chance.

  photo  Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra looks on against the Brooklyn Nets during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 25, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)
 
 

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