The NBA announced on Aug. 15 its schedule for the group stage for the inaugural in-season tournament, which will see the winning team earn the NBA Cup and its players $500,000 each.
The tournament — whose final will be on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas — will see each NBA team play a four-game group stage in November, with the group winners advancing to the knockout rounds.
The tourney will be a proving ground for the league’s newest star, as Victor Wembanyama and the San Antonio Spurs have more nationally televised games (three) than any other team during this month’s four-game group stage.
So what, exactly, is the NBA Cup? How will the tournament work? Why is it happening? What is the NBA hoping to get out of it?
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Friday | FAQ | Full Schedule
Turner nets tourney’s first bucket; Curry sinks Thunder in wild finish
Myles Turner’s dunk off a pass from Tyrese Haliburton 19 seconds into the Indiana Pacers’ win over Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night became the first basket scored in the history of the NBA’s in-season tournament.
Friday’s slate of seven games marked the first of seven days of group stage games across the month of November, including the next three Fridays along with Nov. 14, 21 and 28.
In arguably the night’s best game, the Golden State Warriors beat the Oklahoma City Thunder when Stephen Curry flipped in a layup with less than a second to go that, after a very lengthy review, was determined to have counted despite Draymond Green hitting the rim.
Elsewhere, the tournament’s first overtime game saw the Portland Trail Blazers keep the Memphis Grizzlies winless. Also, the 3-point line at Ball Arena had to be re-painted prior to tipoff between the Denver Nuggets and the Dallas Mavericks. The league is using colorful alternate court designs for all 30 teams for tournament matches.
Read Friday’s full recap here.
East A results
Pacers 121, Cavaliers 116
East B results
Bucks 110, Knicks 105
Heat 121, Wizards 114
East C results
Nets 109, Bulls 107
West A results
Trail Blazers 115, Grizzlies 113 (OT)
West B results
Nuggets 125, Mavericks 114
West C results
Warriors 141, Thunder 139
Players, coaches express cautious optimism ahead of in-season tourney debut
Jimmy Butler was ready to leave.
The superstar forward for the Miami Heat was inside the visiting locker room at Boston’s TD Garden after Miami’s Oct. 27 loss to the Celtics when he was asked for his thoughts on the NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament.
Butler cracked a toothy grin.
“You want me to tell the truth?” he said, glancing at the Heat’s public relations employee standing nearby.
When it was relayed to Butler that the truth is what was being asked for, he said, “I just love hooping. I don’t care what you call it. I just like to play basketball.
“That’s all I’m going to say.”
Butler was then asked if that meant it was safe to assume he wasn’t interested in a new tournament to win, and instead was focused solely on raising the Larry O’Brien Trophy, and he smiled again.
“I mean, you said it,” Butler said. “Not me. You said it. Not me.”
Butler’s stance isn’t an uncommon one. After years of discussion about the possibility of the creation of some sort of midseason tournament — one akin to those that take place in soccer and basketball leagues around the world — the NBA has finally embraced that reality. Friday night’s set of seven games serves as the opening night of seven days of NBA Cup group stage games across the month of November, followed by an eight-team, single-elimination knockout round that culminates with the final on Dec. 9 in Las Vegas.
While there is an understandable amount of confusion and resistance to the in-season tournament’s addition to the NBA’s calendar, several players and coaches expressed a general feeling of optimism about the possibilities of what this event can become, and an openness to seeing how this first version of it plays out.
“I’m game for it,” Butler’s coach, Erik Spoelstra, said. “I trust the process. This is something that they’ve been talking about for several years. So we’ve had time to think about it, debate it.”
Several people, unprompted, mentioned the play-in games being added to the schedule in recent years as an analog to the creation of the in-season tournament. As in this situation, there was skepticism about whether there was a need to alter the league’s playoff format, going from just having eight teams make the playoffs to having the seventh through 10th seeds in each conference play a mini tournament for the final two spots.
But after some compelling play-in games in recent years — and seeing both the Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers make deep playoff runs coming out of it last postseason — it now has become an essential part of the league’s calendar.
“The last time there was a move like this, it was a play-in,” Spoelstra said. “I remember everybody saying, ‘Oh, it’s a horrible idea, this and that.’ But I think it’s been really good for the league. … So this, I think, just give it a little bit of time and I think, ultimately, it’ll be good for the league.”
The league’s front office will certainly be hoping for a similar embrace of this event. Only time will tell, however, if that will be the case.
“I’ve been a part of [the] conversations since they first happened,” said Golden State Warriors guard Chris Paul, who also spent years serving as president of the National Basketball Players Association. “I think the in-season tournament has an opportunity to be something big for the league. … As players, as the league and everything, you [are] always trying to continue to grow the game. I think this is a good way.”
Few people in the NBA have more experience with this type of competition than Philadelphia 76ers coach Nick Nurse, who spent a decade serving as a head coach in Europe, primarily in England.
“Well, personally, I love it,” Nurse said. “I’ve been through it a lot of years over there. It’s just a part of every season over there and it’s interesting. Obviously it comes from soccer … so people are really in tune with it. Even the players are in tune with it, what’s going on and why you’re doing it. So I love it from that standpoint. I think the other standpoint is you’re getting down to one-game knockouts at this level. I think it will be amazing to watch once it gets to that point.”
Until the tournament itself plays out, however, the questions about motivations and interest level in it will linger. Will fans embrace the games, which just so happen to be take place in the part of the calendar where the league typically has its lowest amount of interest as it is competing with the heart of the NFL and college football seasons? And, perhaps just as importantly, will players?
Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris pointed to one very specific, and substantial, reason he believes players will be on board come the first week of December.
“Let me tell you something,” Harris said with a smile. “Anytime there’s an incentive that’s built [in], and some dollars, guys are going to be a little bit more locked in. They always talk about the All-Star Game. ‘Oh, how do you make the All-Star Game competitive?’ There’s a way, for sure.”
Harris is referring to the fact that every player on the winning team of the tournament will get $500,000, followed by those on the team that loses in the championship game getting $200,000. The losers in the semifinals will get $100,000 each, and the losers in the quarterfinals will each get $50,000.
Harris also said he is in favor of the concept overall, adding that he likes the idea of the tournament in the middle of the season and believes players will be into the idea of winning it once it reaches the latter stages.
“The competitive nature of having a tournament in season is cool,” Harris said. “See where guys stack up. Hopefully everybody’s healthy at that time, as well. And then I think the closer the reality is like, ‘OK, this is a nice little bonus right here’ for a lot of guys.”
Ultimately, though, only time will tell whether the in-season tournament goes the way of the play-in and becomes an essential part of the rhythms of the NBA season, or instead comes and goes like the synthetic ball once did.
“I’m not sure,” said Joel Embiid, the NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player, when asked for his thoughts on the tournament. “I think it could be good.
“We’ve gotten used to the Larry O’Brien being the main trophy that everybody wants. So it is going to take a little adjusting to kind of figure it out if something else is also as important as maybe as the main trophy.”
Why is this happening?
NBA commissioner Adam Silver has wanted to implement it for years, for a variety of reasons. Much like the play-in games, though, it took a long time for him to convince everyone involved to give it a shot.
The first hope, obviously, is that it generates revenue. The NBA believes the in-season tournament can become a significant moneymaking franchise over time because of the ability to sell its television rights — as it did with the WNBA’s version of the event. The other hope is to draw more eyeballs to the league. The stretch of time the tournament is set within — from the start of November through the first week of December — might be the most irrelevant part of the NBA schedule. It’s after the initial rush of the season starting, and alongside the college football and NFL regular seasons. If this tournament can bring more attention to the sport during its least relevant time of the year, it will be seen as a victory.
What is the format?
Silver has long been fascinated with European soccer, and the basis for the NBA’s in-season tournament lies in the cup tournaments across Europe. In those leagues, there is a regular-season championship, determined by the team with the most points over the full year, and then a separate tournament (or, in some leagues, multiple tournaments) that runs concurrently with the league season.
Unlike European soccer tournaments, though, which all are played outside of the league schedule, the NBA Cup is built into the NBA’s regular-season schedule. The 30 teams were split up into six five-team groups.
The four group stage games will be played on seven November dates: four Fridays (Nov. 3, 10, 17 and 24) and three Tuesdays (Nov. 14, 21 and 28).
The quarterfinals will be played Dec. 4 and 5 at the higher-seeded team, and the semifinals and championship game will be Dec. 7 and 9 in Las Vegas.
How will this impact the regular-season schedule and standings?
Typically, the NBA sends out a full 82-game schedule in mid-August. This year, though, the league only sent 80 games, with a gap in the schedule from Dec. 3-10. Each team’s final two regular-season games will be determined by how the in-season tournament plays out.
The 22 teams that fail to qualify for the knockout rounds of the in-season tournament will have their final two games scheduled — one at home and one on the road — on Dec. 6 and 8 against other teams eliminated in the group stage.
The East teams that lose in the quarterfinals and the West teams that lose in the quarterfinals will play each other on Dec. 7. The teams that lose in the semifinals in Las Vegas will have played their full allotment of 82 games, while the teams that reach the championship game will actually wind up playing 83 games — with the championship game not counting toward the regular-season standings.
Why does the NBA Cup include regular-season games?
Before its launch, one of the biggest questions surrounding the in-season tournament was why any team would be incentivized to compete in it. By making it part of the regular-season schedule, and making every game count toward the regular season — very important from a playoff tiebreaker standpoint — the NBA created a situation in which it is in teams’ interest to win these games.
If this had been set up like the cup tournaments in European soccer, there would’ve been nothing stopping NBA teams from opting out literally or figuratively, sitting all of their top players and getting extra rest time. Under this system, though, they’ll have every incentive to play and win.
What teams make up the groups?
To create the groups — which were separated by conferences — the NBA put all 15 teams in each conference into five pots, separated by their finish in last season’s standings. So: Pot 1 included the teams that finished 1-3 in regular-season record, teams 4-6 went into Pot 2, teams 7-9 in Pot 3, teams 10-12 in Pot 4 and teams 13-15 in Pot 5.
As a result, the following groups were drawn:
East Group A: Philadelphia 76ers, Cleveland Cavaliers, Atlanta Hawks, Indiana Pacers, Detroit Pistons
East Group B: Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Hornets
East Group C: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Toronto Raptors, Chicago Bulls, Orlando Magic
West Group A: Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns, LA Lakers, Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers
West Group B: Denver Nuggets, LA Clippers, New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Houston Rockets
West Group C: Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs
What do players get for winning?
The players on the winning team will each get $500,000, while the runners-up will get $200,000. The losing players of the semifinals will each get $100,000, and the losing players of the quarterfinals will each get $50,000.
Will anyone earn individual honors for their play in NBA Cup games?
There will be a Most Valuable Player award for the in-season tournament, as well as an all-tournament team.
Will this have any impact on the playoffs?
Not beyond the games being regular-season games that count in the standings. While there was some debate among league insiders about guaranteeing a playoff berth as a reward for winning the tournament, ultimately that idea — or any other to further incentivize teams — was not enacted. The only playoff impact will come from the wins and losses accrued throughout the tournament.
Why is it called the NBA Cup?
Because it’s easy enough to change. In the short term, the NBA has said it went with the most basic of titles for both the tournament and its trophy — the “in-season tournament” and “NBA Cup” — as a way to introduce the concept to fans. However, using such bland, nondescript names has another clear advantage: When the league looks to sell the naming rights to both, it’ll be an easier transition from an unremarkable name than one connected with a specific individual (such as the late David Stern, one possibility that had been floated before the tournament was officially unveiled).
Everything you need to know about the NBA in-season tournament
Richard Jefferson gives an in depth explanation of the NBA in-season tournament.
In-season tournament schedule
DATE | GAME | GROUP | TIME | NATIONAL TV
*All times are ET
Friday, Nov. 3
New York vs. Milwaukee | East B | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 3 | Dallas vs. Denver | West B | 10 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 3 | Cleveland vs. Indiana | East A | 7 p.m.
Nov. 3 | Washington vs. Miami | East B | 8 p.m.
Nov. 3 | Brooklyn vs. Chicago | East C | 8 p.m.
Nov. 3 | Golden State vs. Oklahoma City | West C | 8 p.m.
Nov. 3 | Memphis vs. Portland | West A | 10 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 10
Nov. 10 | Brooklyn vs. Boston | East C | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 10 | L.A. Lakers vs. Phoenix | West A | 10 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 10 | Philadelphia vs. Detroit | East A | 7 p.m.
Nov. 10 | Charlotte vs. Washington | East B | 7 p.m.
Nov. 10 | New Orleans vs. Houston | West B | 8 p.m.
Nov. 10 | Utah vs. Memphis | West A | 8 p.m.
Nov. 10 | Minnesota vs. San Antonio | West C | 8 p.m.
Nov. 10 | LA Clippers vs. Dallas | West B | 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 10 | Oklahoma City vs. Sacramento | West C | 10 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 14
Nov. 14 | San Antonio vs. Oklahoma City | West C | 7:30 p.m. | TNT
Nov. 14 | LA Clippers vs. Denver | West B | 10 p.m. | TNT
Nov. 14 | Miami vs. Charlotte | East B | 7 p.m.
Nov. 14 | Atlanta vs. Detroit | East A | 7 p.m.
Nov. 14 | Indiana vs. Philadelphia | East A | 7 p.m.
Nov. 14 | Orlando vs. Brooklyn | East C | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 14 | Dallas vs. New Orleans | West B | 8 p.m.
Nov. 14 | Portland vs. Utah | West A | 9 p.m.
Nov. 14 | Minnesota vs. Golden State | West C | 10 p.m.
Nov. 14 | Memphis vs. L.A. Lakers | West B | 10:30 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 17
Nov. 17 | Philadelphia vs. Atlanta | East A | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 17 | Sacramento vs. San Antonio | West C | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 17 | Phoenix vs. Utah | West A | 10 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 17 | Milwaukee vs. Charlotte | East B | 7 p.m.
Nov. 17 | New York vs. Washington | East B | 7 p.m.
Nov. 17 | Detroit vs. Cleveland | East A | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 | Boston vs. Toronto | East C | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 | Orlando vs. Chicago | East C | 8 p.m.
Nov. 17 | Denver vs. New Orleans | West B | 8:30 p.m.
Nov. 17 | L.A. Lakers vs. Portland | West A | 10 p.m.
Nov. 17 | Houston vs. LA Clippers | West A | 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 21
Nov. 21 | Cleveland vs. Philadelphia | East A | 7:30 p.m. | TNT
Nov. 21 | Utah vs. L.A. Lakers | West B | 10 p.m. | TNT
Nov. 21 | Toronto vs. Orlando | East C | 7 p.m.
Nov. 21 | Indiana vs. Atlanta | East A | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 21 | Portland vs. Phoenix | West A | 9 p.m.
Friday, Nov. 24
Nov. 24 | Boston vs. Orlando | East C | 2:30 p.m. | NBA TV
Nov. 24 | Phoenix vs. Memphis | West A | 5 p.m. | NBA TV
Nov. 24 | Miami vs. New York | East B | 7:30 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 24 | San Antonio vs. Golden State | West C | 10 p.m. | ESPN
Nov. 24 | Chicago vs. Toronto | East C | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 24 | Detroit vs. Indiana | East A | 8 p.m.
Nov. 24 | Denver vs. Houston | West B | 8 p.m.
Nov. 24 | Washington vs. Milwaukee | East B | 8 p.m.
Nov. 24 | Sacramento vs. Minnesota | West C | 8 p.m.
Nov. 24 | New Orleans vs. LA Clippers | West A | 10:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Nov. 28
Nov. 28 | Milwaukee vs. Miami | East B | 7:30 p.m. | TNT
Nov. 28 | Golden State vs. Sacramento | West C | 10 p.m. | TNT
Nov. 28 | Chicago vs. Boston | East C | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 28 | Toronto vs. Brooklyn | East C | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 28 | Atlanta vs. Cleveland | East A | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 28 | Charlotte vs. New York | East B | 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 28 | Oklahoma City vs. Minnesota | West C | 7 p.m.
Nov. 28 | Houston vs. Dallas | West B | 8:30 p.m.
Dec. 4 | TBD | 7 or 7:30 p.m. | TNT
Dec. 4 | TBD | 9:30 or 10 p.m. | TNT
Dec. 5 | TBD | 7 or 7:30 p.m. | TNT
Dec. 5 | TBD | 9:30 or 10 p.m. | TNT
Dec. 7 | TBD | 5 p.m. | ESPN
Dec. 7 | TBD | 9 p.m. | TNT
Dec. 9 | TBD | 8:30 p.m. | ABC