NBA In-Season Tournament brackets, predictions + Russell Westbrook vs. fans isn’t going away


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If you’re suffering from PD (point differential) for longer than four hours, call your NBA commissioner.


Elimination Matchups

Here’s who advanced

We did it! We got through the In-Season Tournament’s first-ever round of group play. And what group play it was! There were bright red courts, big buckets and fans getting calculators for accurate point differentials.

It made last night more interesting than most random, regular-season nights. Everybody tuning into TNT or League Pass was scoreboard-watching. In fact, TNT brought the NCAA Tournament special vibes by adding game scores atop the screen!

Was there any context for certain scenarios and necessary point differentials? Absolutely not. But the scoreboard-watching was fun. We even had extended point-differential controversy between the Bulls and Celtics, who’d been the most outspoken against IST point differential being a factor!

The Celtics needed to win big over Chicago to advance. They were doing Hack-an-Andre Drummond while up 30 in the second half, leading to Billy Donovan and Joe Mazzulla meeting at half court so Donovan could understand why. Boston won 124-97 and notched the East Group C win thanks to — you guessed it! — point differential.

Here’s more from last night:

  • Bucks 131, Heat 124 – Milwaukee won East Group B thanks to Damian Lillard and Giannis Antetokounmpo combining for 55 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. Miami has lost three in a row.
  • Knicks 115, Hornets 91 – The 10-7 Knicks won the East wild card after sealing a plus-42 point differential, beating out Cleveland (3-1, plus-29), Orlando (3-1, plus-22) and Brooklyn (3-1, plus-20).
  • Mavericks 121, Rockets 115 – Houston losing to 11-6 Dallas gave New Orleans (plus-33) the West Group B outright.
  • Kings 124, Warriors 123 – Sacramento lit the beam and won West Group C. The 8-10 Warriors needed a 12-point win to do so.

Here’s what we’ll see for the single-elimination portion of the IST starting on Dec. 4 and 5.

East Bracket

No. 3 seed Celtics at No. 2 Pacers: They played earlier this season in non-IST action, which the Celtics won by 51 points. But they’ll be in Indiana this time! (Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m. ET, TNT)

Wild-card Knicks at No. 1 Bucks: These two already met in group play, a matchup the Bucks won 110-105 by surviving 45 points from Jalen Brunson. (Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m. ET, TNT)

Prediction: I’ll go with the Knicks versus the Celtics to see who goes for the NBA Cup in the East. 

West Bracket

No. 3 New Orleans Pelicans at No. 2 Sacramento Kings: The .500 Pelicans are 2-0 against the Kings, including a 36-point win. Both games were in NOLA. (Dec. 4, 10 p.m. ET, TNT)

Wild-card Phoenix Suns at No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers: The 10-8 Lakers are 2-0 against Phoenix this season, including a 122-119 victory in IST group play. Devin Booker didn’t play in either of those games. (Dec. 5, 10 p.m. ET, TNT)

Prediction: Let’s get that old Kings-Lakers rivalry renewed with a chance at the NBA Cup!


The Latest From Shams

Untimely injury for Charlotte star

The Hornets will be without their star point guard for a while, as LaMelo Ball injured his ankle in Sunday’s loss to the Magic, and league sources tell me that he is expected to miss an extended period of time.

I’m told further evaluation of Ball’s injury is expected today. Initial tests showed that Ball avoided a fracture in the same ankle he fractured last February, an injury that caused him to miss the remainder of the season.

The 5-11 Hornets have lost six of their last eight games and visit the Nets on Thursday. For the season, Ball has averaged 24.7 points and 8.2 assists per game.


Russell Vexed-brook

Russ vs. (heckling) fans

Over the years, there have been seemingly countless interactions between Russell Westbrook and fans sitting near the court. Some instances have been heinous, with vile words being used toward Westbrook about him and his loved ones. Others have seemed like overreactions by Westbrook bristling at being called something as unclever as “Westbrick.”

The latest incident happened Monday night, toward the end of the Clippers’ 113-104 loss to the Nuggets, who didn’t have Nikola Jokić, Jamal Murray or Aaron Gordon available. Ben Golliver tweeted out videos of Westbrook confronting the fan from afar. Westbrook was still on the floor, while the fan appears to be a couple rows deep at midcourt.

After the game, Westbrook stated:

“Fans kind of have the right of way to say whatever they want, but like I told you… any disrespect to me or my family, I won’t allow it.”

I fully believe fans being disrespectful is out of line, especially when it pertains to family members. It should not be allowed. And security must do its job by removing fans who indeed cross that line. However, Westbrook’s crowd confrontations have become background noise to many games. The “Westbrick” stuff is corny as hell, but it’s not offensive.

Westbrook toed the line of NBA messaging for fans and what he wanted to say to reporters after. No real physical confrontations will happen, which is good. But Westbrook exchanging words with a fan is akin to there being a light, gentle breeze right now. It could be noteworthy and become something else, but we’ll mostly just go on about our day.


Mavericks’ Sale Imminent

Mark Cuban to still run the team?

After more than two decades of owning and operating the Dallas Mavericks, Mark Cuban is selling a controlling share to casino billionaire extraordinaire Miriam Adelson at a $3.5 billion valuation.

Pending league approval, Cuban will still own part of the team but won’t remain majority owner, which won’t keep him from having full control over basketball operations. Perhaps maintaining control over basketball ops kept the valuation “lower” than we’d expect. As people have known for a long time, Cuban is very involved in the Mavs’ basketball side, though team sources tell Tim Cato that Cuban has been far less influential in the team’s front-office decision-making since Nico Harrison was hired as general manager in 2021.

Considering this news and Cuban announcing he’ll leave the show “Shark Tank” next year, let’s recklessly guess what this means without info. Will Cuban run for president? He’d have the cash for a campaign! 🤷🏻‍♂️


Bounce Passes

It’s Power Rankings time! The Magic and Suns are climbing!

Hoops Adjacent talks to Magic coach Jamahl Mosley about their rise.

The No Dunks gang discusses the dangers of Cleveland’s raised court.

Mike Shearer says Paul George is the Clippers’ best player. Is that bad?


Screen Game (All times Eastern)

  • Main Screen: Sixers-Pelicans (8 p.m.). Zion versus Embiid. That’s all we need.
  • Second Screen: Clippers-Kings (10 p.m. NBA TV). Will Russ yell at some fans tonight? Also, this should be a good game.
  • League Pass Game of the Night: Rockets-Nuggets (9 p.m.). Who is the real Nikola Jokić: the actual Joker or Alperen Şengün? Full schedule here.

(Top photo of De’Aaron Fox: Sergio Estrada / USA Today)





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