It’s NBA Cup time, folks.
The In-Season Tournament Quarterfinals kicked off on Monday with Obi Toppin’s Indiana Pacers beating (an absent) Kristaps Portizing’s Boston Celtics before the New Orleans Pelicans dealt with the Sacramento Kings.
On Tuesday, it’s time for the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns to fight for a ticket to Las Vegas, as well as for our beloved New York Knicks as they will face the Milwaukee Bucks on the road at Fiserv Forum later today.
The Knickerbockers held a couple of training sessions on Sunday and Monday and they spoke enough to fill a column and then some, so here’s your update from the very source before tonight’s tip-off!
The IST, more than just a payday for Jalen Brunson
A lot of the talk about the IST has been related to how much weight players are giving to the tournament. Will there be a parade? Will there be a banner hanging from the rafters of the champions’s arena? Is the half-million enough?
Jalen Brunson, for one, isn’t even thinking that deep into it. “It’s something we could put on our résumé as a team,” he said after Sunday’s practice. “If you have the chance to win something... why not? It’s another game for us, and so we’re gonna be ready to go in that aspect. There’s a little bit at stake.”
Of course, the $500k might not be a lot for JB, Julius Randle, or RJ Barrett, just to name a few Knicks. For rotation guys, however, that dough is more than solid, and Brunson acknowledged that.
“For us to go out there and BS the game or not really care about it—the guys who do play and do make a lot of money—is unfair to our teammates,” Brunson said. “We can’t just go out there and be like ‘Yeah, we make this much amount of money and that’s that.’ No, we go out there and play for our teammates, the guys that work hard every single day, do the scout team, that may not get the playing time they want, but they had the work ethic, they had the mindset that they wanna be there. Everyone is just as important, so you gotta take everything seriously.”
Jalen Brunson: "Yo tell the world why you got that big ass backpack on"— New York Basketball (@NBA_NewYork) December 2, 2023
Ryan Arcidiacono: (throws water at Brunson)
Jalen: "Yo stop playing around! Yo! You got a big ass backpack Yo! That's the world's largest backpack bruh"
Ryan: "Yo that's my travel bag…"
Brunson also labeled the Knicks a “resilient” team ahead of Tuesday’s matchup, one that could have ended with them facing the Pacers on the second leg of a back-to-back had Indy lost yesterday (and New York today). That’s no longer the case.
“Got to keep fighting and keep getting better.”
Julius Randle, packing for Las Vegas
Even though nobody knows where the Knicks will have to play basketball following Tuesday’s game, there are only two possible outcomes: Sin City (if they win today) or Beantown (if they lose).
Reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week Julius Randle will arrive in Milwaukee with a bag packed full of goodies for a long trip to Nevada, mind you. “I packed for Vegas,” he told reporters on Monday following practice at Tarrytown, NY.
No wonder Randle’s such a genius.
“We’re excited. We look at it as a great opportunity to come out and play and compete against the best and compete for something,” Randle said. “We get to see how we stack up against one of the best teams in the league.”
That’s the thing. Had the Knicks failed to clinch a place in the IST QF, they would have faced a couple of non-qualified teams from a pool filled full of mediocre franchises. Instead of that, they will play the Bucks on Tuesday for a season-high five times this season, and then go against the Boston Celtics or the Indiana Pacers depending on today’s result—arguably the best team in the East and another lock to make the playoffs.
If New York wins the next two games, then the Knicks will make the IST Final in Las Vegas, adding a bonus 83rd game to their regular-season schedule. Uh, oh, Thibs’ dream and unload-management galore!
Speaking about the quarterfinals matchup against the Bucks, Randle thinks the Knicks “have played them well the past four or five times—we played them close games.” Added Randle: “We’re kind of looking to get over that hump. Dame made some great shots the last time we played there, but we feel good about our chances going in.”