PHOENIX — When the NBA’s in-season tournament was created and introduced this season, the hope was that it could create more interest in the league’s seven-month-long regular season and give teams an extra incentive to put their best foot forward in the early portion of the year.
And few other teams would benefit more from a boost than the Lakers, who play their first in-season tournament game on Friday night against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center.
“A win,” Taurean Prince said. “At this point, that’s all we’re looking for right now. We know who is on that team. We know who can possibly be on the floor. So, it’s more so just about making sure that we’re ready and ready to step up to the challenge.”
The Lakers are coming off their worst loss of the early season – an embarrassing 128-94 defeat to the Houston Rockets.
Even with the Lakers being shorthanded and undersized, with Anthony Davis (left adductor/hip) and Jaxson Hayes (left ankle) sidelined in addition to Gabe Vincent (knee), Jarred Vanderbilt (heel) and Jalen Hood-Schifino (knee), problems that have consistently plagued L.A. were present against the Rockets.
There was a slow start. The offensive rebounds allowed. The offense stagnated for significant stretches and the shotmaking wasn’t there to make up for it.
“The game is always, in my opinion, won by doing the little things, the details: sprinting back in transition defense – that’s why we’ve been harping on that all year and will continue to harp on that,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “Being active. Helping your teammates out. Being great on the ball. And then getting hits and trying to come up with long, difficult rebounds and 50-50 balls.
“The second-chance points that we give teams and the second and third opportunities, that’s been a little bit of an Achilles heel for us. That definitely has to get corrected.”
Maybe the tournament will give the Lakers (3-5) more incentive to pick up their play, going 0-3 on the four-game road trip so far and 0-5 on the road for the season.
The Suns (4-4) will be the Lakers’ first group-stage game, with games still to come against the Memphis Grizzlies (Tuesday), Portland Trail Blazers (Nov. 17) and Utah Jazz (Nov. 21) as part of West Group A play.
Eight teams will advance from group play into the knockout rounds: the six group winners and two “wild cards” – the team from each conference with the best record in group-play games that finished second in its group.
The knockout rounds will feature single-elimination games in the quarterfinals (Dec. 4-5), semifinals (Dec. 7) and championship (Dec. 9). The semifinals and championship will take place at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
In-season tournament prize pool money will be allocated to the players on the teams that participate in the knockout rounds:
• Players on the team that wins the championship: $500,000 each
• Players on the losing team in the championship game: $200,000 each
• Players on the teams that lose in the semifinals: $100,000 each
• Players on teams that lose in the quarterfinals: $50,000 each
There’s also a financial prize pool for coaches, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“Everybody’s fighting for playoff position and fighting for obviously the Larry O’Brien (trophy), so, that’s competitive within itself,” Lakers big man Anthony Davis said. “It was more so just for a lot of players resting and doing that during the season. Now, they play, obviously.
“I don’t even think it’s the trophy – everybody loves money, put the money in front of them. Especially that amount, you kind of pick it up a little bit. So, now it makes it seem like every game matters leading up to the in-season tournament finals or whatever it’s called. And then just carrying over to [the] finish [of] regular season to the playoffs.”
Ham thinks the tournament is here to stay.
“It’s great for the league whenever you can play meaningful basketball,” Ham said. “Obviously, the money matters. The winning purses and the purses all the way down the line, definitely matters. Any time you can get meaningful basketball this early in the season, it’s great for the league. It’s great for our fans. Guys are engaged early, focused and it’ll be a lot of fun. It’ll be a mainstay in our league.”
When: Friday, 7 p.m.
Where: Footprint Center, Phoenix
TV/radio: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet, 710 AM
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