NBA In-Season Tournament Championship betting preview, prediction: Best bets for Lakers vs. Pacers in NBA Cup

The stage has been set for the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament Championship, with LeBron James and the Lakers battling Tyrese Haliburton and the Pacers for the NBA Cup in Las Vegas on Saturday night (8:30 p.m. ET, ABC).

This column will prepare you for this exciting and historic event from a betting perspective, and unveil our best moneyline, spread, over/under and prop bets for the night.

This will be a battle of young and old, with emergent MVP candidate Haliburton looking like a Steve Nash/Stephen Curry hybrid and the LeBron James-Anthony Davis duo looking as dominant as ever. These squads both shoot well from the floor, move the ball effortlessly and block a ton of shots, so expect highlights out of the first-ever NBA Cup.

Indiana knocked off two Eastern Conference powerhouses to get here, beating the Celtics 122-112 on Tuesday and the Bucks 128-119 on Thursday. The Pacers have lived up to their name, as their pace has been furious all season, even more so in the In-Season Tournament. But they’re not just the fastest team up the floor — they’re also the highest-scoring and the most efficient in terms of shooting and passing.

Haliburton has racked up 53 points, 28 assists and 17 rebounds with zero turnovers over the past two games while maintaining shooting splits of 56.8/40.0/100. Mind-boggling excellence.

Another thing that has been mind-boggling: 38-year-old LeBron and 30-year-old AD ripping younger rotations to shreds. The Lakers just decimated the Pelicans by 44 points in the Semifinals, one game after eking out a victory over the Kevin Durant and Devin Booker Suns in the Quarterfinals.

Bron scored 30 points on 9-of-12 shooting against the Pels, adding eight assists and five rebounds. AD casually dropped 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting, while ripping down 15 boards and adding five assists, two steals and two blocks. Neither superstar played in the fourth quarter. 

All the stars will be out for the majority of the game on Saturday, with history and a half-million dollars on the line. LeBron and the Lakers clearly want the NBA Cup to add to their respective legacies, while Hali and his young-gunning Pacers would love to assert themselves as a legit NBA force in front of what could very well be a record-breaking audience for a December NBA game.

Let’s dive into this historic Lakers-Pacers’ NBA Cup clash, and hopefully help you make some IST cash!

NBA In-Season Tournament best bets: Lakers vs. Pacers

All odds courtesy of BetMGM, an authorized partner of the NBA. Click here to sign up!

  • Spread: Lakers -3.5 (-115) | Pacers +3.5 (-105)
  • Moneyline: Lakers -190 | Pelicans +155
  • Over/Under: O 240.5 (-115) | U 240.5 (-105)

Both teams sit exactly where they have been all week — the Lakers modest favorites and the Pacers underdogs. Oddsmakers give L.A. an implied winning probability of 65.5 percent, and the total is high but not nearly as gargantuan as the Pacers-Bucks’ over/under, which closed at 257.5. 

For Indiana’s Cinderella story to enjoy a fairy-tale ending, a lot of things will need to go right. The most important, of course, is defense. The Pacers entered the IST knockout round with a 120.8 defensive rating on the season. Over their last two games, however, their defensive rating sits at a sparkling 110.5

Still, the Pacers have been pushovers in the paint and on the glass, two factors that play into L.A.’s hands. No team has allowed more interior scoring than Indiana this season. Rick Carlisle’s squad surrenders an average of 35.3 2-pointers per game while allowing opponents to shoot a hair below 50 percent from the field. Indy has surrendered 63.5 points in the paint over its past four contests while getting out-rebounded 178-158 in that span. 

Indiana deserves its flowers for a multitude of reasons. Haliburton is on pace for one of the best seasons by a point guard in the 75-plus-year history of the NBA. He’s making Christmas miracles happen on the floor, helping put a supporting cast widely considered an Island of Misfit Toys onto the permanent ‘Nice’ list.

Myles Turner has been a revelation both near the hoop and outside the 3-point line. Buddy Hield has maintained his status as one of the best 3-point shooters in the world, but he’s also playing defense and crashing the boards these days. Obi Toppin has established himself as an offensive force and an intimidating rim finisher. Bruce Brown has been every bit the Swiss Army knife the Pacers hoped he would be for them.

If this team continues to evolve, we might be witnessing the best offense of all time. 

Still, how can we bet against LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Lakers in a title game against one of the five youngest rosters in the Association? Los Angeles has a top-10 defense, it enters this game with LeBron as blisteringly hot offensively as we’ve seen him in years and AD has leveled the competition near the hoop all season (he ranks first in total rebounds and second in blocks on the campaign).

If James and AD want this — which they clearly do — it seems like it’s theirs to take. 

Never mind that Vegas — just an hour away from L.A. — is basically like Crypto 2.0 when it comes to audience allegiance. Forget that Pacers forward Bennedict Mathurin gave Bron some bulletin board material by once saying the modern-day GOAT must show he’s better than Benny, who just shot 3-of-12 from the floor on Thursday. Bron and AD have been here before, and they have the floor-stretching, defensive-helping components around them to once again etch their names into the history books. 

Austin Reaves has reached Alex Caruso X-factor status, not so much for his defense but for his timely shot-making and savvy offensive approach that makes him look wise beyond his 25 years. Cam Reddish and Taurean Prince have been able to scratch the 3-and-D itch that L.A. has endured since its Bubble championship. Christian Wood, Jaxson Hayes, Jarred Vanderbilt and Rui Hachimura give Darvin Ham’s squad size, rebounding and interior finishing ability beyond AD.

This Lakers team has only improved and gotten healthier since its run at the Western Conference title in June — and it’s about to take the glass slippers off Hali and the Cinderella-story Pacers for all the world to see. Bet against King James in a legacy game at your peril — we plan to be on the right side of history when Adam Silver hands over the NBA Cup on Saturday night.

FINAL SCORE PREDICTION: Lakers 127, Pacers 115 — The Lakers win and cover (-4.5), winning the inaugural NBA In-Season Tournament and hoisting the first-ever NBA Cup. The game just barely goes OVER (240), much to the chagrin of the 60 percent of BetMGM bettors going for the UNDER. LeBron James gets named the first In-Season Tournament MVP three weeks before his 39th birthday. 

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