As the NBA prepared to launch his first tournament of the seasonSomething the league and commissioner Adam Silver repeatedly emphasized was that introducing a cup tournament like those held in Europe would give teams a chance to win something besides the Larry O’Brien Trophy in June.

Additionally, by having all the knockout stage matches on national television, the tournament would create an opportunity for under-the-radar teams to become the center of national attention.

In other words, it was created for a team exactly like the Indiana Pacers.

“The in-season tournament is probably the first time I’ve really competed to win a championship at the NBA level,” the Pacers guard said. Tyrese Haliburton he told ESPN. “I’ve never made the playoffs or anything like that, so here it gives me the opportunity to do it, and that’s exciting for me.

“There’s definitely some more juice in those games, and it’s exciting. It’s an exciting time for the league and you know, I think we’re all trying to push the seasonal tournament to be something bigger because everyone wants there to be some meaning.” “

Indiana has one scheduled nationally televised game this season: Jan. 30 in Boston on TNT. In fact, that will be the first time in Haliburton’s career that he will appear on the network, unless he can lead the Pacers to the quarterfinals of the season tournament with a win against the Atlanta Falcons on Tuesday night, which would ensure This Group A for the Pacers.

For a Pacers team trying to reestablish itself as a playoff contender in the Eastern Conference, the opportunity to play real-stakes games in the opening weeks of the season is something they don’t take for granted.

“Opportunities to be on more meaningful stages is a big thing for young teams,” Pacers coach Rick Carlisle told ESPN. “I have been involved in over 300 playoff games in my career as a player, assistant coach and head coach. For me, my job is to develop the style that helps our group have the best possible chance of winning.

“That being said, having the opportunity to compete on a more meaningful platform is very important.”

The NBA hopes the in-season tournament will become a universally accepted event, and not just an interesting aspect of the first part of the regular season. The first step to achieving this is getting players and teams to buy in, something that was in doubt this summer when the event was announced. Enter the Pacers, who finished 11th in the East a season ago, five games out of first place, and were projected to finish ninth in the East this season, despite the presence of Haliburton, a star a year ago who He is averaging a career-high 23.5 points per game this season.

“The acceptance of our teams and players is what will ultimately generate fan interest and help create a new tradition,” Silver told ESPN. “Players around the league, whether young rising stars like Tyrese Haliburton or all-time greats like Lebron James and Stephen Curry“They’ve talked about what’s at stake in these seasonal tournament games and how it translates into even more competitive play on the court.”

Haliburton is leading the league in assists (11.6 per game), driving an offense that plays with a style reminiscent of the Steve Nash“Seven seconds or less” phoenix suns; Indiana leads the league in both pace and points per 100 possessions. They can still advance to the knockout round even with a loss to Atlanta, although they would need a little help from the rest of their group. If they make it to the quarterfinals, the league will have the opportunity to showcase one of the league’s most exciting young teams to a new level of interest from casual fans of the sport.

Still, there are plenty of reminders along the way that Indiana remains a work in progress. Even as he spoke Saturday about his team’s start and the potential impact of winning against Atlanta, Carlisle cautioned that his team shouldn’t overlook another young team, the orlando magicin a non-tournament match on Sunday.

The Pacers then fell behind by as many as 40 points at home, as the Magic Wire-to-wire LEDs in a path.

“We have to keep our eyes on the ball,” Carlisle said. “But with Tyrese, offensively we can do some special things and defensively we’re getting better.”

The Pacers will need to greatly improve their current 27th-ranked defensive ranking to make the kind of playoff run Haliburton & Co. eventually hopes for. currently they are seventh in the eastfirmly in the chase for the playoffs and play-in, so they project to play significant basketball in March and April for the first time since 2021, when they lost to the Wizards of Washington in the entry tournament.

For now, Indiana is simply focused on Tuesday’s game in Atlanta. And for a league hoping to make this event a cornerstone of the NBA calendar, it has at least gotten one of its brightest young stars on board with the idea.

“Guys might think, ‘Oh, it’s a long season. If we lose this one, we’re fine.’ But I think there’s some juice in saying, ‘No, no, no. Yeah, it’s a long season. But we want to this game, we want it now,'” Haliburton said. “I’ve loved that aspect of the seasonal tournament. It’s been a lot of fun.”

18 be