Introspective Tatum returns to Brooklyn as in-season tournament continues

The NBA announced on Aug. 15 its schedule for the group stage for the inaugural in-season tournament, which will see the winning team earn the NBA Cup and its players $500,000 each.

The tournament — whose final will be on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas — will see each NBA team play a four-game group stage in November, with the group winners advancing to the knockout rounds.

The tourney will be a proving ground for the league’s newest star, as Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs have more nationally televised games (three) than any other team during this month’s four-game group stage.

So what, exactly, is the NBA Cup? How will the tournament work? Why is it happening? What is the NBA hoping to get out of it?

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Introspective Tatum returns to Brooklyn

Jayson Tatum has a lot of history with the Brooklyn Nets.

The All-NBA forward was taken third overall by the Boston Celtics in the 2017 NBA draft at Barclays Center, where the Nets play. Boston had that pick in part because of the trade the Celtics had made with the Nets for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013.

So when Tatum became the youngest Celtics player to score 10,000 career points Saturday night in that same building, he couldn’t help but get nostalgic.

“Man, I was ignorant when I got drafted,” Tatum said with a smile. “First of all, I didn’t even want to come because I didn’t think I was going to play.

“They had Gordon [Hayward], [Jaylen Brown], Isaiah Thomas and [Marcus] Smart, and I didn’t think I was good enough to be on that team. … But, you know, things happen for a reason and I got my opportunity. It’s been a long process.”

The two teams will face off again Friday night (7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN) in one of nine games taking place on the second night of group stage games for the inaugural in-season tournament. It will be the second tournament game for the Nets, who escaped from Chicago with a two-point win a week ago, while it will be Boston’s tourney opener.

For Tatum, it’ll just be another crack at Brooklyn, a team that he and the Celtics have faced twice in the playoffs in recent years.

Tatum has grown into one of the league’s best players and is the foundational piece of a team aiming to win its 18th NBA title and first since Garnett and Pierce won it all in 2008.

If he’s able to pull that off, Tatum will do it with what he calls a newfound connection to the city where he has spent his entire professional career. The 25-year-old St. Louis native has said over the past 18 months he’s begun to identify as someone from Boston.

“Being 19, it was an adjustment. But you realize, my son was born in Boston. I bought my first house, my car, my mom lives in Boston,” Tatum said. “I’ve spent almost a third of my life [there]. So you really start to think about all those things and the relationships that I’ve built in the organization and people outside just in the city. You really start to feel like you’re a part of something.”

What he’s also part of is a team that’s as good as any in the NBA. The additions of Kristaps Porzingis and Jrue Holiday have given Boston an elite ceiling at both ends of the court. Even after reaching the Eastern Conference finals in four of Tatum’s six NBA seasons, he thinks this team has a chance to be the best one yet.

“We’re extremely talented from top to bottom,” Tatum said. “But I think what’s special about this group is, we have some guys that really just compete and want to win, want to guard, full-court press, making the extra effort.

“We have guys who work really hard, are selfless. I think it’s a product of we’ve been so close these last two years that guys really want to do whatever it takes, and it’s showing. It’s only been five games, but it’s special to see.” — Tim Bontemps

LeBron, KD to continue rivalry in NBA Cup

After missing each other on the court for a five-year stretch, LeBron James and Kevin Durant will now face off for the second time in as many months in Friday’s game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns (10 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Various injuries that afflicted both players meant that the Lakers’ 100-95 win over the Suns on Oct. 27 was the first time the two future Hall of Famers had faced each in a regular season game since Christmas Day in 2018. James had joined the Lakers that summer while Durant was in his final year with the Golden State Warriors before signing with the Brooklyn Nets.

With six NBA Finals rings between them (including three contested against each other), James and Durant now turn their sights toward adding a different title to their résumés with their in-season tournament debuts.

Friday’s game also is an opportunity for the duo to add to their prolific scoring. James and Durant have 65,973 combined points, the second 2nd-most combined career points entering a matchup between players all-time, trailing Karl Malone against Michael Jordan on Valentine’s Day in 2003 (67,365), according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

The Lakers aim to end a nightmare four-game road trip on a high note in which they have been hit by injuries, including to Anthony Davis (left hip) and Jaxson Hayes (left ankle). Both are listed as questionable for Friday’s game.

“We’re juggling different circumstances — guys being in and out of the lineup,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said after Wednesday’s loss in Houston. “But at the end of the day, no one is going to feel sorry for you, especially when you’re a Los Angeles Laker.”

The Suns’ All-Star Devin Booker remains out with a right calf strain but Phoenix did finally see Bradley Beal make his team debut following a back injury, scoring 13 points in Wednesday’s OT win over the Chicago Bulls.

“He was good in stretches and you could tell he was a little bit rusty in stretches, which was to be expected,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said of Beal. “A difficult opponent.” — ESPN staff

Friday’s games

76ers at Pistons, 7 ET
Hornets at Wizards, 7 ET
Nets at Celtics, 7:30 ET (ESPN)
Pelicans at Rockets, 8 ET
Jazz at Grizzlies, 8 ET
Timberwolves at Spurs, 8 ET
Clippers at Mavericks, 8:30 ET
Lakers at Suns, 10 ET (ESPN)
Thunder at Kings, 10 ET

NBA in-season tournament standings

FAQ (by Tim Bontemps)

Why is this happening?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has wanted to implement it for years, for a variety of reasons. Much like the play-in games, though, it took a long time for him to convince everyone involved to give it a shot.

The first hope, obviously, is that it generates revenue. The NBA believes the in-season tournament can become a significant moneymaking franchise over time because of the ability to sell its television rights — as it did with the WNBA’s version of the event.

The other hope is to draw more eyeballs to the league. The stretch of time the tournament is set within — from the start of November through the first week of December — might be the most irrelevant part of the NBA schedule.

It’s after the initial rush of the season starting, and alongside the college football and NFL regular seasons. If this tournament can bring more attention to the sport during its least relevant time of the year, it will be seen as a victory.

What is the format?

Silver has long been fascinated with European soccer, and the basis for the NBA’s in-season tournament lies in the cup tournaments across Europe. In those leagues, there is a regular-season championship, determined by the team with the most points over the full year, and then a separate tournament (or, in some leagues, multiple tournaments) that runs concurrently with the league season.

Unlike European soccer tournaments, though, which all are played outside of the league schedule, the NBA Cup is built into the NBA’s regular-season schedule. The 30 teams were split up into six five-team groups.

The four group stage games will be played on seven November dates: four Fridays (Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24) and three Tuesdays (Nov. 14, 21 and 28).

The quarterfinals will be played Dec. 4 and 5 at the higher-seeded team, and the semifinals and championship game will be Dec. 7 and 9 in Las Vegas.

How will this impact the regular-season schedule and standings?

Typically, the NBA sends out a full 82-game schedule in mid-August. This year, though, the league only sent 80 games, with a gap in the schedule from Dec. 3-10. Each team’s final two regular-season games will be determined by how the in-season tournament plays out.

The 22 teams that fail to qualify for the knockout rounds of the in-season tournament will have their final two games scheduled — one at home and one on the road — on Dec. 6 and 8 against other teams eliminated in the group stage.

The East teams that lose in the quarterfinals and the West teams that lose in the quarterfinals will play each other on Dec. 7. The teams that lose in the semifinals in Las Vegas will have played their full allotment of 82 games, while the teams that reach the championship game will actually wind up playing 83 games — with the championship game not counting toward the regular-season standings.

Why does the NBA Cup include regular-season games?

Before its launch, one of the biggest questions surrounding the in-season tournament was why any team would be incentivized to compete in it. By making it part of the regular-season schedule, and making every game count toward the regular season — very important from a playoff tiebreaker standpoint — the NBA created a situation in which it is in teams’ interest to win these games.

If this had been set up like the cup tournaments in European soccer, there would’ve been nothing stopping NBA teams from opting out literally or figuratively, sitting all of their top players and getting extra rest time. Under this system, though, they’ll have every incentive to play and win.

What teams make up the groups?

To create the groups — which were separated by conferences — the NBA put all 15 teams in each conference into five pots, separated by their finish in last season’s standings. So: Pot 1 included the teams that finished 1-3 in regular-season record, teams 4-6 went into Pot 2, teams 7-9 in Pot 3, teams 10-12 in Pot 4 and teams 13-15 in Pot 5.

As a result, the following groups were drawn:

East Group A: Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons

East Group B: Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets

East Group C: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic

West Group A: Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, LA Lakers, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers

West Group B: Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets

West Group C: Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs

What do players get for winning?

The players on the winning team will each get $500,000, while the runners-up will get $200,000. The losing players of the semifinals will each get $100,000, and the losing players of the quarterfinals will each get $50,000.

Will anyone earn individual honors for their play in NBA Cup games?

There will be a Most Valuable Player award for the in-season tournament, as well as an all-tournament team.

Will this have any impact on the playoffs?

Not beyond the games being regular-season games that count in the standings. While there was some debate among league insiders about guaranteeing a playoff berth as a reward for winning the tournament, ultimately that idea — or any other to further incentivize teams — was not enacted. The only playoff impact will come from the wins and losses accrued throughout the tournament.

Why is it called the NBA Cup?

Because it’s easy enough to change. In the short term, the NBA has said it went with the most basic of titles for both the tournament and its trophy — the “in-season tournament” and “NBA Cup” — as a way to introduce the concept to fans. However, using such bland, nondescript names has another clear advantage: When the league looks to sell the naming rights to both, it’ll be an easier transition from an unremarkable name than one connected with a specific individual (such as the late David Stern, one possibility that had been floated before the tournament was officially unveiled).



The best matchups of the inaugural NBA in-season tournament

Kendrick Perkins, Richard Jefferson and Chiney Ogwumike share their picks for best matchup in Western Conference group play.

In-season tournament scores and schedule

*All times are ET

Nov. 3

Pacers 121, Cavaliers 116

Bucks 110, Knicks 105

Heat 121, Wizards 114

Nets 109, Bulls 107

Trail Blazers 115, Grizzlies 113 (OT)

Nuggets 125, Mavericks 114

Warriors 141, Thunder 139

Friday, Nov. 10

Brooklyn vs. Boston | East C | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

L.A. Lakers vs. Phoenix | West A | 10 p.m. | ESPN

Philadelphia vs. Detroit | East A | 7 p.m.

Charlotte vs. Washington | East B | 7 p.m.

New Orleans vs. Houston | West B | 8 p.m.

Utah vs. Memphis | West A | 8 p.m.

Minnesota vs. San Antonio | West C | 8 p.m.

LA Clippers vs. Dallas | West B | 8:30 p.m.

Oklahoma City vs. Sacramento | West C | 10 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 14

San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City | West C | 7:30 p.m. | TNT

LA Clippers vs. Denver | West B | 10 p.m. | TNT

Miami vs. Charlotte | East B | 7 p.m.

Atlanta vs. Detroit | East A | 7 p.m.

Indiana vs. Philadelphia | East A | 7 p.m.

Orlando vs. Brooklyn | East C | 7:30 p.m.

Dallas vs. New Orleans | West B | 8 p.m.

Portland vs. Utah | West A | 9 p.m.

Minnesota vs. Golden State | West C | 10 p.m.

Memphis vs. L.A. Lakers | West B | 10:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 17

Philadelphia vs. Atlanta | East A | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

Sacramento vs. San Antonio | West C | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

Phoenix vs. Utah | West A | 10 p.m. | ESPN

Milwaukee vs. Charlotte | East B | 7 p.m.

New York vs. Washington | East B | 7 p.m.

Detroit vs. Cleveland | East A | 7:30 p.m.

Boston vs. Toronto | East C | 7:30 p.m.

Orlando vs. Chicago | East C | 8 p.m.

Denver vs. New Orleans | West B | 8:30 p.m.

L.A. Lakers vs. Portland | West A | 10 p.m.

Houston vs. LA Clippers | West A | 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 21

Cleveland vs. Philadelphia | East A | 7:30 p.m. | TNT

Utah vs. L.A. Lakers | West B | 10 p.m. | TNT

Toronto vs. Orlando | East C | 7 p.m.

Indiana vs. Atlanta | East A | 7:30 p.m.

Portland vs. Phoenix | West A | 9 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 24

Boston vs. Orlando | East C | 2:30 p.m. | NBA TV

Phoenix vs. Memphis | West A | 5 p.m. | NBA TV

Miami vs. New York | East B | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN

San Antonio vs. Golden State | West C | 10 p.m. | ESPN

Chicago vs. Toronto | East C | 7:30 p.m.

Detroit vs. Indiana | East A | 8 p.m.

Denver vs. Houston | West B | 8 p.m.

Washington vs. Milwaukee | East B | 8 p.m.

Sacramento vs. Minnesota | West C | 8 p.m.

New Orleans vs. LA Clippers | West A | 10:30 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov. 28

Milwaukee vs. Miami | East B | 7:30 p.m. | TNT

Golden State vs. Sacramento | West C | 10 p.m. | TNT

Chicago vs. Boston | East C | 7:30 p.m.

Toronto vs. Brooklyn | East C | 7:30 p.m.

Atlanta vs. Cleveland | East A | 7:30 p.m.

Charlotte vs. New York | East B | 7:30 p.m.

Oklahoma City vs. Minnesota | West C | 7 p.m.

Houston vs. Dallas | West B | 8:30 p.m.


Dec. 4 | TBD | 7 or 7:30 p.m. | TNT

Dec. 4 | TBD | 9:30 or 10 p.m. | TNT

Dec. 5 | TBD | 7 or 7:30 p.m. | TNT

Dec. 5 | TBD | 9:30 or 10 p.m. | TNT


Dec. 7 | TBD | 5 p.m. | ESPN

Dec. 7 | TBD | 9 p.m. | TNT


Dec. 9 | TBD | 8:30 p.m. | ABC

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