Four teams remain in the first annual NBA In-Season Tournament, and we should be in for a great semifinal. There are two tremendous matchups on Thursday, and we are here to break down the NBA In-Season Tournament Semifinals and give our best betting picks.
The final four are set, and some big names are left standing. In the East, the surprise Indiana Pacers will face the Milwaukee Bucks at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN. The West Semifinal will follow, with the Los Angeles Lakers hosting the New Orleans Pelicans at 9 p.m. ET on TNT.
If you want to make an NBA betting pick for the Semifinals, take a look at our NBA In-Season Tournament Semifinals odds preview and predictions.
Indiana Pacers vs. Milwaukee Bucks
Indiana’s Offensive Dominance
The Indiana Pacers have been the surprise of the first NBA In-Season Tournament. After qualifying for the quarterfinal as the No. 2 seed in the East, the Pacers shocked Boston and will now head to Milwaukee to take on one of the best teams in the NBA.
Entering the season, there was not a lot of optimism around this team, but they are playing some excellent basketball, especially on the offensive end of the court. On the season, the Pacers rank first in scoring (128.4), fastbreak points (17.5), points in the paint (59.1), assists per game (30.2), shooting percentage (50.9%), and shooting efficiency (1.230).
They also play with the fastest pace in the NBA, which means they take many shots per game. Indiana signed Bruce Brown in the offseason and acquired Obi Toppin via trade. That beefed up this roster that was basically held together by Tyrese Haliburton and Myles Turner.
As a result, the Pacers have a deep-scoring roster, and Haliburton has blossomed into one of the best offensive players in the league. However, the defense continues to be a significant issue.
While Indiana has the most explosive offense in the NBA, the defense has been horrendous. They rank last in scoring (125.2), 28th in defensive rating, and give up over 60 points per game in the paint.
Beasts of the East
Very few duos in the league are more talented than Giannis Antetokounmpo and Damian Lillard. Although this pair did not get off to the best start this season, they have settled nicely and are currently kicking everyone’s asses.
The Bucks have won 10 of their last 12 games, winning by an average of 9.4 points per game during this stretch. In the Tournament, Milwaukee is 5-0, with a 14-point average margin of victory.
Like Indiana, the Bucks play with a swift tempo on offense, ranking fifth in possessions per game. They also rank in the top five in scoring (122.3), shooting percentage (50%), and made field goals per game (44.3). Defensively, they have some problems, as they are giving up 118.3 points per game and are not very good in transition.
But Milwaukee is a much more rounded defense. While they rank 21st in defensive efficiency, the difference between the Bucks and Pacers in DRTG is the same as that between the Bucks and the team ranked No. 6 in DRTG (Clippers).
There is no doubt that the Pacers will be able to put some points on the board, as they did earlier in the season in a 126-124 win over the Bucks. Since that game, the Bucks have been trending positively on both sides of the court, ranking 12th in defensive rating and second in points per game (124.9).
Pacers vs. Bucks Prediction
It is hard to ignore just how great the Pacers have been scoring the ball this season. In that same breath, however, it is also hard to forget just how brutal the defense has been.
Milwaukee also has a high-scoring offense and a weak defense, but the difference between the two defenses is stark. While Indiana ranks first in three-point attempts allowed and made three-pointers, the Bucks are taking 37 threes per game, ranking sixth in team three-point shooting percentage.
Even though the Pacers got the best of Milwaukee earlier this season, the Bucks are continuing to improve on both ends, while Indiana is only getting better at scoring the ball. With two great offenses and suspect defenses, this game has all the makings of a very entertaining shootout.
But the total sits around , which is a little too high for our liking. Instead, we will back one of the hottest teams in the NBA to win and cover the spread.
Pacers vs. Bucks Betting Pick: Milwaukee
New Orleans Pelicans vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Red Hot Pelicans
New Orleans lost its first In-Season Tournament game to the Rockets, and since then, has dominated every game. They are 4-0 since the loss, with all but one game being won by double digits. While they needed some help to reach group play, the Pelicans have made the most of their opportunity and are one game away from the Championship game.
While the Lakers have a lot of star power, the duo of Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram have been unstoppable. It also helps that New Orleans has slowly been getting healthy during the tournament. This includes getting back CJ McCollum, who is putting up 18.7 points per game since his return.
The trio of Williamson, Ingram, and McCollum will be hard to stop, but the Pelicans defense is still a concern entering this game. On the season, New Orleans ranks in the league’s bottom half in most defensive categories. Luckily, the Lakers are not a great offensive team, and if New Orleans can continue its current scoring clip, they should be in a good spot to advance to the Championship.
The Pelicans’ ability to defend the paint will be critical in this matchup. They will be without Larry Nance Jr. and Matt Ryan, hurting their defense down low. Los Angeles ranks sixth in points in the paint and percentage of points that come on the fastbreak.
Defending that will be a challenge, but the Pelicans love to play at a slow pace, which should limit the number of possessions and fastbreak opportunities for the Lakers.
Hollywood Star Power
Los Angeles is fortunate to be in this spot after a controversial call went their way in the quarterfinals against the Suns. A timeout was granted to the Lakers on a loose ball, which probably would have been scooped up by Devin Booker to easily tie the game with less than 10 seconds remaining if the whistle had not been blown.
However, the timeout was given, and Los Angeles held on to advance to the In-Season Tournament Semifinals. That win moves the Lakers to 5-0 in the tournament, and they will host the Pelicans for a chance to play in the Championship game.
As always, you have a chance at winning whenever you have LeBron James on your team. In Year 21 of his brilliant career, LeBron still produces at a high level. He is putting up 24.7/7.6/6.6 on 54.6% shooting from the field and 38.7% from deep.
It has not been all LeBron for Los Angeles, as Anthony Davis is having a big year, especially in the In-Season Tournament. Davis dropped 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in the win over the Suns. During the tournament, Davis averaged 21.2 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
Although they are not consistent on either end of the court, they have stepped up during the tournament and are playing some really good basketball entering the game. The Lakers are also very healthy entering this semifinal matchup, outside of Gabe Vincent, who has not played much this season anyway.
They have a very deep roster, and obviously, there is a lot of talent towards the top. While the Pelicans are one of the hottest teams in the league, the Lakers will undoubtedly be a tough challenge.
Pelicans vs. Lakers Prediction
It is hard to bet against a LeBron-led team in a tournament-style setting, but the Pelicans are an exciting team to back in this spot.
Offensively, New Orleans has a lot more firepower, and they have been slightly better defensively. While the Lakers are playing some great basketball right now, the Pelicans’ defense does an excellent job at limiting transition points.
They do this by paying with one of the slower paces in the NBA, which should cause problems for Los Angeles. The Lakers do not shoot the ball all that well, which will be a problem, seeing how New Orleans will look to limit their possessions.
The oddsmakers indicate this will be a tight game, as Los Angeles is favored by under a basket. That value for a Lakers team playing at home will not be seen much, especially in a game like this. However, the Pelicans are loaded and, when healthy, are one of the most dangerous teams in the league.
Pelicans vs. Lakers Betting Pick: New Orleans