Los Angeles Lakers vs. Indiana Pacers Pick & Prediction DECEMBER 9th 2023

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LeBron James has been a superstar for two decades while Tyrese Haliburton is a newbie to star status.

Haliburton certainly looks comfortable in the role and will lead the Indiana Pacers against the James and the Los Angeles Lakers in the championship game of the NBA’s in-season tournament on Saturday night at Las Vegas.

Both clubs are 6-0 in the in-season tournament, each going 4-0 in group play before posting two knockout-round wins.

Each player on Saturday’s winning team will earn $500,000, while the players on the runner-up side each will receive $200,000.

But there is more than money at stake for the Pacers, a feel-good story over the first quarter of the NBA season. Indiana hasn’t reached the playoffs since the 2019-20 season and is looking to take a major step upward. The Pacers view the title game as that jumpstart.

“It means the world to us as a group,” Haliburton said after Thursday’s 128-119 semifinal win over the Milwaukee Bucks. “I think this was the whole point of the in-season tournament, to see a young group like ourselves compete and come out here and fight.

“I think we’re shocking the world right now. Nobody expected us to be here except for the guys in the locker room. That means a lot to us, so it feels good.”

Haliburton has been stellar in two knockout-round games, averaging 26.5 points, 14 assists and 8.5 rebounds without committing a single turnover in wins against two Eastern Conference powers in the Boston Celtics and Bucks.

The high-profile play has continued a stellar campaign for the 23-year-old Haliburton, who is averaging 26.9 points and 12.1 assists in 18 games.

He put Thursday’s game on ice with a 3-pointer to make it an eight-point margin with 48 seconds left.

“It’s a collective effort to get each other good looks, and those kinds of things,” Indiana coach Rick Carlisle said. “Tyrese is certainly our leader, no question about that. I thought he was spectacular — 27 (points) and 15 (assists) these days are kind of like average numbers for him. But he drove the bus when the game counted, particularly down the stretch.”

Playing in big games is nothing new for James, who owns four NBA title rings.

But after the Lakers steamrolled the New Orleans Pelicans 133-89 in their Thursday semifinal, he didn’t seem to be all that enthralled with playing for the NBA Cup.

“Look, it’s still December so I’m not getting too crazy about the whole thing,” James said afterward. “This thing has been great, the in-season tournament, but it’s still December. It’s another game for us to get better and we want to try to win the game.”

James was superb against the Pelicans with 30 points, eight assists and 4-of-4 shooting from 3-point range while playing just under 23 minutes.

Los Angeles held a 13-point halftime lead and then annihilated New Orleans 43-17 in the third quarter while pushing the lead to 39.

Now Los Angeles will look to control an Indiana offense that has been the best in the NBA all season. Indiana leads the league with a 128.4 points-per-game average and has topped 140 on four occasions.

“They are a good ballclub. We were actually talking about it maybe last week that they score a lot of points,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said of the Pacers. “Obviously, the head of the snake is Tyrese, with good role players around him who complement him very well.

“They are young. They are scrappy. They get out and run, and they play the right way. So it’s going to be a test for our defense, for sure. But it’s going to be an exciting game.”

The Lakers and Pacers split a pair of one-point decisions last season. The road team won both times.

–Field Level Media

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