Sports

How to hate-watch the rest of the NBA’s In-Season Tournament, Part I

The NBA In-Season Tournament’s single elimination stage tips off this week. Human nature drives us to dump on new things and the IST has inspired a whole host of reasons to hate it. There’s a lot not to like. The scoring differentials playing a role in who advances, the personalized courts playing like ice rinks, the 30-team field being whittled down to eight teams that don’t include the last two NBA champs and the sudden-death round beginning nearly a month into the tournament. The Indiana Pacers, Boston Celtics, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Pelicans kick off Day 1, so here’s where each team is insufferable in their own way.

Pacers are running a frat

Offensively, Indiana is a frat party. Buddy Hield is doing trick shots from a chandelier, Myles Turner is blocking shots through his own window and Tyrese Halliburton is supplying the social lubricant. Problem is, when everyone goes home, the Pacers home is trashed and they’ve done enough damage that it’s barely liveable. They live life on the edge. They hit turbo with possession of the rock, but defend like they’ve had one too many. They can get away with it because they’re young, fun and the city needs something to root for. The Pacers play like the 2023 analog to Doug Moe’s Silent D-enver Nuggets. Those legendary Nuggets offenses were the last carryover from the ABA , but rarely played meaningful postseason basketball.

Haliburton is an outstanding playmaker, but can you trust a heliocentric offensive conductor, who looks like he’s constipated when he attempts jump shots? Buddy Hield is the NBA’s 30-year-old postseason virgin and playing a smaller role than he has in year’s past, but he’s getting too old for these shenanigans after missing out on the postseason for longer than any active player. The last time Hield played a single-elimination game, he was a senior at Oklahoma getting thrashed by 44 points against Villanova. And he’s the veteran on this squad. By comparison, the Boston Celtics look like Logan Roy.

Celtics consultant management firm

If the Pacers are the young, carefree interlopers running a Calvinball offense, Boston is a soulless lineup led by a Pete Buttigieg clone. Like any McKinsey alum, Brad Stevens traded most of its homegrown supporting stars for a prosaic crop of efficient project managers. The Celtics are essentially Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford and a consulting firm. Horford is practically a grandfather now while Brown is the NBA’s highest-paid player, but one who penetrates like he’s got Ball Hog weighted ball handling gloves on his left hand.

Jrue Holiday is the fixer teams import to lift their quarterly projections on both ends of the floor. But like any consultant, he’s not bound to any place for too long. The same goes for Kristaps Porzingis. Since leaving New York he’s become a hired gun.

Danny Ainge went this route trading Isaiah Thomas for Kyrie Irving and it destroyed their continuity, but at least Irving was a scintillating artist with the rock in his hands. Porzingis and Holiday are great for team chemistry on the floor, but they’re also operators brought in if the general manager was secretly artificial intelligence. They fit just what Boston needs, but they’ll never inspire as much passion as K.G, Bird and Ray Allen. Even their best player secretly wishes he was a Laker.

Porzingis suffered a calf strain on Nov. 24, hasn’t played since and is out for the Celtics opener. Him missing an important contest due to injury is Boston’s greatest fear. This season is his best chance to redeem his reputation after years of playing off Broadway in Dallas and Washington, but if he’s couch surfing during the postseason, these Celtics can’t expect to bring Boston’s 18th title home this summer. Until 2020, Boston had more Larry O’Briens than nearly every franchise, can you imagine how intolerable Bostonians will be if their post-Brady title drought is interrupted by an In-Season title? Fortunately, Joe Mazzulla’s prep and bungling execution in crunchtime is worst than Doug and Jem’s “last job” in The Town.

Murphy’s Law applies to the New Orleans Pelicans

If smooth sailing is the tenor of the New Orleans Pelicans, it can only mean that it’s a matter of time until the ship capsizes. A leak always springs when the Pelicans hit their stride. Remember when Demarcus Cousins ruptured his Achilles right when he, Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday were beginning to fine tune their connection?

Zion Williamson’s precarious health and fitness has become a running joke and common narrative. But he’s not the only Pelican with perforated bones and ligaments. CJ McCollum’s fragility should be just as concerning. Since the 72-game 2020-21 season, he’s missed 147 games. McCollum’s is just as much to blame for the Pelicans as Williamson’s, so save some of those fire-breathing critiques for Jaleel White with a jump shot.

Brandon Ingram is flourishing, but turning into the Michael Beasley of Kevin Durants. That’s a disappointment. His silky smooth game inspired Durant comps and he appeared to be making a leap, but he’s constantly taking two steps back after one step forward. Ingram was a sore thumb on Team USA at this summer’s FIBA World Cup and he’s carried that into the regular season, and seems to have left his jump shot in the Philippines.

The third-tier Beam Team

The Beam Team was a shock to the league’s system last season. The Beam lit up the skies over Sacramento, De’Aaron Fox won the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year award, they set the all-time record for offensive efficiency, ended the league’s longest playoff drought and Domantas Sabonis emerged as a viable No. 2 on a playoff team, but they’ve lost the element of surprise. Now comes the real expectations. The Kings wouldn’t have advanced if Golden State weren’t scurrying around trying to reach a +13 point differential. Every time you look at the Kings, just remember what this could have been. Keegan Murray’s development is stuck in amber while Shaedon Sharpe looks like a gamechanger for Portland.

This is the organization that passed on Luka Doncic for Marvin Bagley, and Vivak Ranadive is training his daughter to run the basketball side soon. They also nabbed the Oklahoma City Thunder’s spot in the quarterfinals. Fox and Sabonis feel like overachievers who have already bumped their heads on a ceiling compared to Sam Presti’s precocious Thunder squad.

Sabonis is the other side of the Julius Randle coin in a multitude of ways. He’s fenced in by his limitations. He’s efficient to a fault, measured, a non-factor defensively and he pops up once a night to attempt one obligatory three. Randle is erratic offensively as well as emotionally, sluggish on defense and he’s missing an extra gear. And as nice as he is, just remember how much higher the Kings could reach if they’d utilized Tyrese Haliburton correctly.

(Part 2 will be published tomorrow, Dec. 5).

Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex




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