Lakers ready to get back to business after historic NBA Cup win

Agence France-Presse
Lakers ready to get back to business after historic NBA Cup win
LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers lifts the trophy after the team's 123-109 victory over the Indiana Pacers to win the championship game of the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament at T-Mobile Arena on December 09, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller / Getty Images / AFP

LOS ANGELES – The champagne was flowing after LeBron James and Anthony Davis inspired the Los Angeles Lakers to the first-ever NBA Cup crown, but the celebrations were short-lived with the season's main goal still ahead.

"We made history," James said after he and Davis led the Lakers in a dominant 123-109 victory over tournament darlings Indiana in the NBA's first in-season tournament on Saturday (Sunday Manila time).

"Any time you're on the right side of history, you take it."

Davis spearheaded the Lakers' charge in the title game, scoring 41 points with 20 rebounds. James added 24 points and 11 rebounds and got the nod as Most Valuable Player of the tournament conceived to lend some excitement to the early stages of the long NBA regular season.

James, the league's all-time leading scorer, said the Lakers' 7-0 run through the competition that began with all 30 NBA teams drawn into six groups for round-robin play showed Los Angeles have the ingredients to make a strong push in the NBA championship playoffs.

However, he cautioned, it was far too soon to be talking about May and June and the chances of the Lakers adding to their 17 NBA championships — tied with the Boston Celtics for the most ever.

"I think that's thinking too far down the road," James, himself owner of four championship rings, said. "We want to put it in perspective that it's still December.

"We like where we are right now but we want to continue to work our habits, continue to get healthy as well.

"But I think right now where we are in December, I would take it. I would take it, but I'm definitely not looking to May and June.

"There's too many steps that need to be taken still in order for our team to be who we want to be once the post-season starts."

With many of their early-season injury troubles behind them, the Lakers next turn their attention to a Tuesday regular-season clash with the Mavericks in Dallas. 

It's the start of a three-game Texas swing that will also feature two games in San Antonio against the Spurs and their sensational rookie Victor Wembanyama.

James said their performance in the tournament, especially in quarter-finals against the Phoenix Suns and the rout of the New Orleans Pelicans in the semi-finals, showed the Lakers were getting where they need to be on the defensive end.

"Our defensive intensity, in order for us to win and win at the highest level, we have to defend," he said. "We've been doing that over the last few weeks."

The Pacers may find the pivot to the regular season jarring after their Cinderella run in the in-season tournament.

Despite their high-octane offense, keyed by guard Tyrese Haliburton, the Pacers chances of emerging from the East to challenge for a franchise first NBA title have been largely dismissed.

But the young, hungry team knocked off the top two Eastern Conference outfits in Boston and Milwaukee in the NBA Cup knockout rounds, and Haliburton was gutted after the loss to the Lakers.

Got to move on

"It's funny because it's like everybody says this has like the (collegiate) NCAA Tournament feel, but after a game like that you're sitting in the locker room going, most of us ain't graduating, we play on Monday," Haliburton said.

"It's definitely frustrating," added Haliburton, who said the Pacers will have to hit the reset button quickly.

"At the end of the day, it's just like the regular season. It's game 22, 23. Got to move on," he said.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said scheduling would be one thing the league looks at as it considers possible improvements to the new tournament in the future.

The biggest concern would likely be to provide some kind of scheduling certainty for teams that don't advance from group play, who then had to "essentially schedule games at the last minute."

Silver said the league would "take a little bit of a breather" before considering changes to the event from teams, players, the players' union and even fans.

"All suggestions welcome," he said.

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