The NBA could not have asked for a better matchup for its inaugural In-Season Tournament Final. Big market vs. small market. Up-and-coming superstar in Tyrese Haliburton vs. the legend he idolized as a kid in LeBron James. A rematch of the 2000 NBA Finals. Two teams that have an against one another. It's the perfect culmination for an event that has been an unbridled success for the league.
But who's actually going to win it? And what other profit opportunities exist on the betting market? Here are our best bets for Saturday's tournament finale.
This is a lazy justification for a pick, but the Pacers are the better bet because they rarely get blown out. If you affixed a four-point spread to all 20 games they've played this season, the Pacers would have a record of 14-5-1. "But Sam," you're probably thinking, "the Pacers lost by 51 points to the Celtics, isn't that a blowout?" Yes, but Tyrese Haliburton missed that game. The Lakers, meanwhile, are not an especially blowout-friendly team. They have only six double-digit wins this season, and four of their 14 wins have come by three points or fewer. The Lakers live inside of the arc, while the Pacers live behind it. They close gaps quickly, and the Lakers build gaps slowly. Expect a close game, and in that setting, I want those four points. The Pick: Pacers +4
As we covered, the Lakers are not a jump-shooting team (despite what Thursday's win over the Pelicans would have you believe). They rank 29th in 3-point attempts per game and 27th in 3-point percentage. That suits the Pacers just fine. Their entire defensive strategy relies on taking away 3-pointers, but the tradeoff is that no team allows anywhere near as many points in the paint. LeBron James and Anthony Davis are going to get to the rim at will, and that should lead to a high-scoring night for the Lakers. Every night is a high-scoring night for the Pacers, and this is hardly an ideal defensive matchup for the Lakers. They allow the sixth-most fast-break points in the NBA. The Pacers have put up the second most. They're going to try to run the older Lakers off of the floor, and they might just succeed. The Pick: Over 240.5
The Pacers rank 26th in the NBA in rebounding rate. They're small and they send so much help at shooters that they frequently miss chances to box out at the rim. Anthony Davis has a preposterously high rebounding line of 14.5, so I'd avoid that, but LeBron James at 8.5 is another matter. He is going to guard and be guarded by smaller players all night. Aaron Nesmith just took the Giannis Antetokounmpo matchup in Indiana's game against Milwaukee. Throw in all of the extra shot attempts that come with Indiana's pace, and James should push for double-digits on the boards. The Pick: James Over 8.5 Rebounds
Yes, we're moving into role player territory quickly here. Nearly 58% of Taurean Prince's shot attempts have come from behind the arc. The Pacers completely sell out to limit 3-point attempts. This is also a game in which the Lakers may need to devote more wing minutes to defenders like Cam Reddish and Jarred Vanderbilt, which would cut into Prince's playing time. Therefore, I'm expecting a light Prince night. The Pick: Prince Under 8.5 Points
If the Lakers do indeed lean into Indiana's "take away the 3's" approach and spend the game attacking the basket, Myles Turner is going to have the chance to contest far more shots than he typically would. The Lakers will win the war at the rim, but Turner is going to put up numbers. He had five total blocks in two games against the Lakers last season and has recorded multiple blocks in his last four games against Los Angeles. The Pick: Turner Over 1.5 Blocks