NBA in-season tournament championship: Betting tips and more

ByNBA Betting Experts ESPN logo
Saturday, December 9, 2023

We've arrived at the inaugural NBA Cup title game matchup. The Los Angeles Lakers and Indiana Pacers both went 6-0 in the in-season tournament to reach the final in Las Vegas.

The Pacers stunned the Celtics and the Bucks -- the two teams favored to win the Eastern Conference this year -- in the knockout rounds. The Lakers dispatched a Bradley Beal-less Suns team and then embarrassed the Pelicans in the semifinal round.

Here are Tyler Fulghum, Andre Snellings, Eric Moody and Steve Alexander to go over the bets to make in Saturday's championship showdown.

Projections and injury reports

Basketball Power Index by ESPN Analytics. Injury aggregation by

8:30 p.m. T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

Records (Against the spread)

Pacers: 12-8 (12-8-0)

Lakers: 14-9 (11-12-0)

Line:Lakers (-4.5)Total:240.5

Money Line:Pacers (+160), Lakers (-190)

Injury Report:

Pacers: None reported

Lakers: None reported

Lakers (-4.5, 240.5) vs. Pacers in Las Vegas. The Pacers impressively took down the Celtics and Bucks this week, while the Lakers knocked off the Suns and blew out the Pelicans. How are you betting this game?

Fulghum: It's hard to ignore how much this appears to matter LeBron James. He's in dominant playoff form. He took three charges in the 1st half of the win over the Pelicans. He became the first player in NBA history to score 30+ points and add 5+ rebounds and 5+ assists in less than 23 minutes. I like the Lakers -4.5 in this spot.

Alexander: I might be a homer as I grew up in Indy, but this Pacers team is built differently, mainly because of Tyrese Haliburton, and it feels like a team of destiny to me, at least in the in-season tournament. I'm not betting against Haliburton and love the fact that Rick Carlisle has embraced his team's strengths and has become one of the most fun coaches in the league. Give me the Pacers and the points.

Moody: I'm with Tyler on this (Lakers -4.5). While LeBron has countless accolades and holds countless statistical records during his long storied career, he does seem very motivated to win the league's inaugural in-season tournament. As both the Pacers and the Lakers rank in the top 10 in pace, this should be a fast-paced game, but Los Angeles' defense should be the difference-maker. The Lakers rank seventh in points allowed per 100 possessions. The Lakers are 6-0 against the spread in the in-season tournament.

Snellings: I really love what the Pacers are doing and think they have a puncher's chance, but I will ultimately go Lakers -4.5. This Lakers team has shown they can match up well with any team lacking a huge, dominant center that Anthony Davis would have trouble matching up with. The Pacers are a joy right now, but they don't have a Nikola Jokic or Domantas Sabonis walking through that door. This will allow Davis and LeBron James to control the middle and put a lot of pressure on the Pacers to win consistently from the outside. Plus, playing in Las Vegas is essentially a home game for the Lakers, which should also give them a bit of a boost.

In-season tournament MVP is really down to LeBron James (-145) and Tyrese Haliburton (+130), with Anthony Davis (+1500) being the long shot and only other player in the mix. Is this simply a case of the MVP coming from the winning team? Who are you taking?

Fulghum: Yes, I would suggest betting LeBron to win MVP (-145) as the best way to bet the IST final. The Lakers' ML price is -190. What are the chances the Lakers win the trophy and it's someone other than LeBron who is deemed MVP? After that performance against New Orleans, I think those chances are very slim.

Alexander: I feel like Haliburton has done enough to win the award if the Lakers win a close game. LeBron's stats aren't earth-shattering and things become more convoluted if Davis, Austin Reaves or D'Angelo Russell outplays LeBron in the final. It's a new tournament and there are no set rules, so it'd be cool if Haliburton were to win it on a losing team. Then again, if the Pacers win the game it won't matter.

Moody: I would also bet on LeBron. He's averaged 26.8 points, 7.5 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game in the in-season tournament. The Lakers have been energized by James' energy so far in the tournament. In his most recent game, James finished with a plus-36 plus-minus, tied for third best in a game in his career. I would be shocked if he doesn't deliver another exceptional performance Saturday in the championship.

Snellings: Since I picked the Lakers to win the game, I have to go with LeBron to win MVP (-145). While Davis has had some good games in the tournament, it has clearly been LeBron driving the bus for the Lakers thus far. He scored 30 points with eight assists in only 23 minutes in the semifinals, and looks entirely locked in. If the Lakers win it, barring something monstrous in the Finals, LeBron should be MVP. With that said...I do think the Pacers have a solid chance to compete, and if they win it's going to be Haliburton all day. Since he has more juice to win than LeBron, I could support anyone that wanted to go with Haliburton in this space.

Are there any player props you're playing in this game?

Fulghum:LeBron James OVER 27.5 points (-135). James breezed his way to 30 points on just 12 field goal attempts and 23 minutes on the floor in the semifinal win over New Orleans. He's clearly locked in and focused. He now gets the best matchup there is in the NBA for scoring production. The Pacers play at the fastest pace in the league and they have no one who can handle LeBron.

Snellings: Tyrese Haliburton over 45.5 total points+assists+rebounds. Haliburton is absolutely zoning right now, making NBA history with his ability to generate high volume assists while taking over the ball. He also has a great sense of the moment as a scorer, and he's willing to put the team on his back for extended stretches. Plus, he's tall for a guard at 6-foot-5, and has 17 total rebounds in his two one-and-done matchups this week against the Celtics and Bucks. All told, he has averaged 32.3 PPG, 12.7 APG and 6.3 RPG (51.3 PAR) in his last three games.

What is one big takeaway you have that can help bettors heading into next season's in-season tournament?

Fulghum: I would look for young, ascending teams that have a bona fide star to bet on. Preferably, a team that hasn't yet tasted significant playoff success yet. The Pacers, Kings, and Pelicans fit that mold this year. I thought the Magic would be a team that could make it to the knockout round. They finished group play 3-1 and lost out on the tiebreaking point differential. Next year, it could be the Rockets, Spurs, Magic, T-Wolves and Thunder that fit that mold.

Alexander: The Pacers, Lakers, Bucks and Kings all breezed through pool play undefeated and the Pacers and Lakers are completely different teams. The Lakers are built around their two aging superstars who are expected to do all the heavy lifting while the Pacers try to run you out of the gym using Haliburton's motor. Indy has been very successful at doing just that so I'd say take the youngest, fastest undefeated team you can find next year.

Moody: A key takeaway for me is not to underestimate teams that are not strong defensively but excel offensively. The Pacers are exactly this type of team. Indiana ranks first in points scored per 100 possessions. As well as playing fast, the Pacers shoot the ball well. Indiana also has an effective field goal percentage of 59%, the highest in the league. Quick transitions and fast breaks allow teams like the Pacers to create more shot opportunities, which can overwhelm opponents. You might be able to find values in next season's tournament if you don't overlook teams with this type of profile.

Snellings: This one-and-done format for the Final Eight feels a bit like March Madness, where a perimeter star can get hot and drive his team to major success. Haliburton's run feels like that, and I think that's a template that could work for teams with strong perimeter players moving forward. Another element is that the two finals teams are at two ends of the spectrum: one is a recent NBA champion with a heavy veteran presence, the other is a young up-and-coming team trying to prove themselves. Putting forth the effort to win the tournament may be more conducive to teams like that, as opposed to veteran teams that haven't won it all like the Heat (who sat Jimmy Butler during a tournament game).